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This page was last updated on 22/06/2007 11:32:57

 

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A narrow church
19 January 2007

Madonna - photo by Alex Stanhope

Francis Beckett worries about the repercussions of a tribunal ruling in Scotland that may give power to the church in the hiring and firing of teachers

The Catholic Church in Scotland is moving fast to make the most of an industrial tribunal ruling which, it claims, gives it the power to ban teachers from Catholic state schools on religious grounds.

It is unlikely to insist that all teachers are practising Catholics, since there are not enough Catholic teachers in Scotland. But it claims the right to do so, and is demanding that teachers assent to several loaded propositions.

apparent victory for secular teachers turned to ashes

The tribunal ruling concerned David McNab, an atheist maths teacher at St Paul’s Roman Catholic High School in Glasgow, who was told by the headmaster that his application for a pastoral care post had been blocked, because the job was reserved for Catholics. McNab appealed to an industrial tribunal, and won – but this apparent victory for secular teachers turned to ashes when the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES) looked at the terms of the judgment.

The Church has a list of ‘reserved’ posts, which can only be filled by candidates it has vetted and approved, even though teachers in these posts are paid from the public purse. These include headteachers, deputy heads, religious education teachers and ‘principal guidance teachers’.

McNab’s victory was on the narrow point that the post for which he applied had not been designated as ‘reserved’. But the SCES interprets the ruling as allowing the church to create as many ‘reserved’ posts as it likes. SCES director Michael McGrath noted ‘with interest the tribunal’s finding that all appointments to all posts in Catholic Schools require the approval of the Catholic Church … this finding is in accord with the view of the church and has been advised to all local authorities’.

McGrath told me: ‘All teachers in state Catholic schools in Scotland require the approval of the Catholic church in terms of religious belief and character. The judgment reaffirmed that this still applies, and to any teaching post. We do approve non-Catholic teachers for certain posts – we make a judgment about religious beliefs and character.’ On McGrath’s interpretation, Catholic schools can refuse to employ a teacher on grounds of faith, or on grounds of morality: for example, they can refuse to employ a teacher who is divorced or remarried, or anyone who sends their children to non-Catholic schools.

Catholic schools can refuse to employ a teacher on grounds of faith, or on grounds of morality

In primary schools, ‘all teachers are teachers of religious education so nearly all have to be practising Catholics – it would be a very rare case where they are not’. A few primary school teachers have been appointed by local authorities in the past. These will not be fired, but in future only practising Catholics will be hired.

The SCES has produced a ‘charter’ for all Scottish Catholic schools which says: ‘All staff appointed to a Catholic school are expected to support and promote the aims, mission, values and ethos of the school, as illustrated in this charter’. The things in the charter they are expected to support include such items of Catholic dogma as that everyone is ‘made in the image of God.’ Staff are required to have ‘a commitment to uphold the moral teaching, faith tradition and sacramental life of the Catholic church’.

The SCES claims it has the right to enforce this charter under the 1918 Education Act in Scotland Act, which provided for the state to take over and fund Catholic schools. ‘Catholic schools in Scotland were transferred in 1918 to the state and the church was then guaranteed certain rights’, McGrath told me.

Catholic schools are also fighting for the right to teach only Catholic children. The SCES says that while its schools are open to children of any denomination, they exist ‘primarily to serve the Catholic community’. Meanwhile its English equivalent, the CES, scored a victory over Education Secretary Alan Johnson, who wanted to insist that 30 per cent of the pupils at faith schools came from non-faith backgrounds. The CES declared its intention to ‘robustly oppose’ this proposal, and Downing Street forced Mr Johnson to climb down. ‘We will react similarly strongly against any other actions that inhibit our legitimate right to give fair preference to Catholics in cases of over subscription to Catholic schools’, warns CES director Oona Stannard.

Francis Beckett is a writer, journalist and contemporary historian.

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Links

Commission for Racial Equality

Publisher of Catalyst Magazine, the CRE works to create a just and integrated society, where diversity is valued.

openDemocracy

Independent political discussion and debate based on exchange and participation.

Prospect Magazine

A political magazine, Prospect also includes features on arts and culture, science, economics, history, social affairs and philosophy.

Runnymede Trust

The Runnymede Trust promotes a successful multi-ethnic Britain.

Institute of Race Relations

The Institute of Race Relations is a race relations thinktank.

EUMC

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Social policy research and development.

For more links, see our new links page.

Search Catalyst

Search For:


Promote Catalyst

If you are able to promote Catalyst in your workplace, university etc, please download our poster, a pdf which can be printed at A4 or A3 size.

Small print

Contributor and illustrator information

Articles published in Catalyst do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Commission for Racial Equality.

For advertising or editorial enquiries, please .

rss logo | What is RSS?

This page was last updated on 22/06/2007 11:32:57

 

© Commission for Racial Equality 2007

 

CRE 30 years logo