Atheist versus Catholic head?

18th May 2007 at 01:00
Fred Forrester

North Larches, Dunfermline

I read with interest your report last week on Professor John Haldane's speech at the Catholic Headteachers' Association conference in Crieff.

There is the potential here for debate on whether secular relativism increases or decreases tolerance in society, but some in the audience must have been concerned about a more immediate threat to the Catholic state education sector in Scotland.

In the case of McNab v Glasgow City Council, the Employment Appeals Tribunal has ruled that an employer cannot invoke a crucial "get out"

clause in the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 unless that employer has "an ethos based on religion or belief", and that a statutory body such as an education authority cannot have such an ethos.

The clause allows a qualifying employer to declare that a particular religion or belief is "a genuine and determining occupational requirement for a particular post". It has been reported that the council is not appealing against this ruling.

So, no education authority may require that any candidate for any teaching post in a Catholic school should be a practising Roman Catholic; and the policy of having a "reserved list" of posts, for which only Catholics were eligible, has been found to be illegal under UK anti-discrimination law.

The tribunal's finding means that any teacher in a Catholic school can be promoted on merit to any post up to and including that of head. A candidate from a non-Catholic school could also apply for a promoted post in a Catholic school, including the headship. Blocking such promotion on the grounds of religion or belief could lead to tribunal proceedings and the payment of damages, which would be payable, as things stand, by the education authority concerned.

So the CHA could see some apostate or atheist headteachers at future conferences. That should result in interesting debates.

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