Union may use European human rights convention to tackle discrimination in Catholic schools. By John Cairney.
JOBS discrimination in denominational schools is to be the focus of an inquiry by the Educational Institute of Scotland and could be the first education matter to be decided by Scottish courts under the European Convention on Human Rights.
In a recent survey of local union officials carried out by the EIS, a significant number reported concerns about appointments and compulsory transfer procedures.
The survey resulted from a motion at last year's annual general meeting of the union which called for a campaign to abolish denominational schools with the consent of churches and parents. Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, said:
"The most common strand among the responses was concern about possible discriminatory practices against non-Catholics in relation to employment and in the processing of compulsory transfers.
"The executive council decided to look into equal employment opportunities for teachers. We will be investigating whether there is a case under equal employment legislation. This will include consideration of the European Convention on Human Rights and could result in the matter being addressed in a Scottish court."
The Convention, due to come into force in England and Wales this autumn, was incorporated into Scottish law when the Parliament was set up and has already caused the Scottish Executive some embarrassment, particularly over the appointment of temporary sheriffs.
Last year some Catholic headteachers in Glasgow were accused of overlooking teachers from non-denominational schools that were due to close. Under an agreement with the unions, such staff were supposed to have priority when it came to filling vacant posts. More recently a secondary headteacher in the city has come under fire for changing the remit of four out of five senior teacher posts in the school to guidance, thus excluding non-Catholics on his staff even from applying for an acting senior teacher post.
Willie Hart, the Glasgow EIS secretary, said this issue caused recurring difficulties in dealing with compulsory transfers. "It becomes very stark when Catholic primary teacers can legitimately choose from any available school and the others may only
choose from non-denominational schools. Teachers, including many Catholic colleagues, feel that this is very unfair."
In Renfrewshire a non-Catholic teacher was denied an interview for the post of principal teacher of science because "in the fullness of time" the successful applicant would also be in charge of biology, and thus would have to be approved by the Catholic authorities.
Ian McCrone, Renfrewshire EIS secretary, said that the increasing number of posts which require church approval was causing disquiet among teachers.
"We have to question whether the current situation - which makes it more difficult for some teachers to get employment, employment rights, permanence and promotion because of their religious beliefs - can be sustained in a society that embraces equality of opportunity."
George Smart, head of resource services in Renfrewshire's education department, said he was not aware of any specific concern in his area.
"It sounds like an issue which the union is driving nationally and they're looking for evidence to fit the bill," he said.
Mr Smart said there had been no change in the number of posts in Catholic schools which required church approval, which are principally those of heads, deputes and teachers of biology and guidance.
John Oates, national field officer of the Catholic Education Commission, was uncompromising in his defence of the status quo.
"If the EIS wishes to take this to court, at least it will clarify for all concerned the existing law and its implications.
" The position for the present is that all appointments to denominational schools require approval with regard to religious belief and character by the church of that denomination. Local arrangements do not supersede the law," he said.
John Stevenson, the general secretary of the Church of Scotland's department of education, said that the appointment of teachers to a Catholic school was not a matter for the Church of Scotland. "Interpretation of the legislation is a matter for the Scottish Executive, the local authorities and the appropriate teachers' trade unions," he added.