New rules allow religious schools to discriminate

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A coalition of organisations, clergy, academics and teachers has been formed to push for a change to new rules that allow faith schools to discriminate.

Accord has been established by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, the British Humanist Association and a range of others to “build a new consensus for fairness and equality in schooling and schools policy.”

They are calling on Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, to stop publicly-funded faith schools from discriminating against students and teachers on the grounds of their beliefs.

New rules came into force yesterday that make it legal for voluntary controlled schools to reserve the headship for those of one belief only, and for voluntary aided schools to discriminate against non-teaching staff on the basis of their beliefs.

“Accord has been able to bring together such a wide range of organisations and individuals because our aim is for every school to welcome children from all backgrounds,” said Accord’s chair, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain.

“As a rabbi I am committed to Jewish values and to passing them on to my children. But as a rabbi I also understand that no one gains if this is done in such a way that it damages good community relations, as in separate religious schools.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-director of Ekklesia, said: “The case for schooling that builds bridges rather than boxes, is one which can unite people of different beliefs and backgrounds – including a growing number of Christians.

“By seeking to control admissions in schools which are funded almost entirely by the taxpayer, the Church is seen to be a self-serving club rather than a body fully committed to care for the community around it.”

Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said:

“We need schools which embrace the diversity in our communities, not schools which divide pupils and staff by faith.

“All children – regardless of their religion, culture, and family income – should have equal access to the best possible education in a good local school.

“Allowing schools to pick and choose pupils is not the best way to achieve this or to create young adults with the confidence and personal skills to live and work in our vibrant multi-cultural society.”

In May the European Commission confirmed that church schools in Ireland can sack teachers who are openly gay.

Under the country’s Employment Equality Act religious schools can dismiss homosexual teachers.

Section 37 of the Act states that schools that promote certain religious values can take action “to prevent an employee from undermining the religious ethos of the institution.”

The European Commission initially warned that the provision was not compatible with EU anti-discrimination legislation, but has now changed its mind after the Irish government argued that it was a narrow exception to equal treatment.

The Commission accepted that an employee should not undermine the “ethos” of an institution they work for, such as a Roman Catholic school or hospital.

95% of primary schools in the Republic are Catholic-run.

Ethos could also affect teachers who are divorced or co-habit, as there is no clear definition of the terms “undermine” and “ethos.”

Teaching unions fear the law could be used to sack teachers who are homosexual, even if they are not open about their sexuality in schools.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are supposed to be protected from discrimination in employment by an EU directive.