Catholic school teachers ‘threatened with sack’ for striking over gay author’s cancelled visit

Author Simon James Green

Governors at The John Fisher School, a London all-boys Catholic secondary school that banned a gay author from speaking, “threatened to sack staff who strike” in protest.

Last month, award-winning children’s and young adult author Simon James Green was scheduled to do a World Book Week talk and book-signing at The John Fisher School in Croydon but the Catholic Diocese of Southwark blocked the event, insisting it fell “outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school”.

Despite the diocese’s intervention, the school’s leadership team voted to go ahead with Green’s visit and was supported by the governors.

However, the diocese overruled the vote and officially cancelled the event, while also removing several governors. The John Fisher School now has a new set of seven foundation governors – school governors appointed by the church.

The issue has put teachers at loggerheads with the Catholic diocese. Staff who are members of the National Education Union (NEU) began a strike on Thursday (28 April), determined not to “stand by and watch those who identify as LGBT+ be singled out for adverse and degrading treatment”.

But sources within the school governing body have told the i that discussions took place at a meeting on firing staff who participate in the strike, claiming it was in violation of their contracts.

An anonymous source said: “They have threatened to sack staff who strike.

“The intolerable pressure that they are putting upon the staff, who are trying to ensure the smooth and effective running of the school and provide a high standard of education to its pupils and support them through upcoming exams, is utterly unacceptable.”

The teachers unions NEU, NASUWT and NAHT have also passed a joint motion, saying that they are “gravely concerned” over an emergency meeting called by John Fisher’s foundation governors, and boycotted by other governors, where they “attempted to remove” chair of governors Corinne Forde.

The unions said they “do not believe that the current foundation governors are acting in the best interests of the students and staff of the school”.

On the first day of the strike on Thursday, some teachers held signs reading “reinstate our governors”, while others held Pride flags.

Daniel Kebede, national president of the NEU, told the BBC that the strike was a “last resort”, and added: “Staff and pupils are absolutely gutted about what has happened.

“Banning a gay author from attending a book talk in the school sends out a really horrific message to the young people in this school and particularly to those who may be gay or lesbian.

“I would like everybody to consider how those particular children feel right now.”

On Monday, 25 April, the Catholic secondary school faced a snap OFSTED inspection because the watchdog was “concerned about the effectiveness of leadership and management (including governance) and, in particular, leaders’ and governors’ work to promote and provide for the personal development of pupils at the school”.

Inspector Sarah Murphy noted: “These events, including the media attention that has come with them, have unnerved and upset many in the school community.

“Some leaders, staff and pupils have been left feeling angry, confused and frustrated. Others are worried about the impression these events might give of the school’s ethos.

“You and your team are steering the school well through this difficult time… Pupils are also receiving additional guidance to help them make sense of recent events. You are identifying those pupils who may be personally affected and putting in place further layers of support tailored to individual need or circumstance.”

However, she recommended: “Immediate steps must be taken to restore stability to governance, and in turn ensure that leadership is provided with the support and challenge needed to build further on the school’s strong provision for pupils’ personal development.”

According to the i, the teachers’ strike is expected last for six days over a three-week period. Mediation began on Wednesday, 27 April.

PinkNews has approached The John Fisher School for comment.