Under the bishop's shadow

7th November 1997 at 00:00
It is strikingly ironic that Martin Luther King would probably not be considered for a teaching post in Catholic schools. The education bus, as driven by Cardinal Thomas Winning, still has Baptists, Jews, Buddhists and atheists standing at the segregated back. As a non-Catholic teaching in a Catholic school I am too well aware of the increasing influence of the Catholic hierarchy in education. Minus Catholic credentials, promotion prospects are on a par with those of the designer of the Mir space station.

Scan the Glasgow vacancy pages of this newspaper and the sign of the Cross sits alongside the post to ward off infidels. Some subject areas are exclusively Catholic - biology (dangerous Darwinism), guidance (any child doubting their sexuality must be reminded it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve).

An increasing number of headteachers are exercising their legal power under the Education (Scotland) Act 1970 to exorcise non-Catholics from leets. This discriminatory piece of legislation flies in the face of the statement by the Scotland Joint Negotiating Committee that there shall be "equal opportunities irrespective of religion". It rides roughshod over council claims to be an equal opportunity employer. Through natural selection (naturally pick the best Catholic rather than the best candidate) it is possible that this form of ethnic cleansing will ensure that non-Catholics wither on the vine. The argument that Catholic subject teachers are necessary to ensure delivery of religious instruction is specious.

Most Catholic schools have a religious education specialist department with several staff members. A headteacher could simply employ RE teachers to meet the curriculum need. Indeed this strategy might improve the status of RE by relying on volunteers rather than staff who are obliged to participate. Headteachers have had this power for many years and in times of teacher shortage have decided against using it. Thus there are a significant number of non-Catholics in the Catholic sector and fact that the Church's teachings have survived is testament to the will of non-Catholic staff to adhere to the ethos of the school.

My own permanent post came about several years before this crusade gathered momentum (I believe the head looked at my surname and made an ill-founded assumption). Today there is a reserve army of unemployed teachers and thus the resurrection of the Catholic-only policy. Zealots are pressing the education department to produce two lists of supply teachers, Catholic and non-Catholic. Obviously the Church must feel that the faith instilled over many years by family, school and indeed itself can be undone by a lone Protestant teacher of geography on one-day cover.

Whether we should have Catholic schools at all is another issue for another time. My concern is that we have reached a crisis point in Glasgow. The news that eight secondary schools face closure has added petrol to the fire of discontent. A host of teachers will have to be redeployed, which could lead to more non-Catholics finding themselves employed in schools which won't consider them for promotion.

The professional associations appear unwilling to take on the Church-council axis, but a test case should be put before the Scottish courts and, if necessary, the European Court of Human Rights. Discrimination in the workplace is a trade union issue. In the absence of a legal remedy there is another answer. My solution would be to organise an exchange of "prisoners": non-Catholics to be found posts in the newly renamed non-Catholic sector and their posts to be given to Catholics trapped on the "other side". Catholic schools staffed by Catholic teachers, teaching Catholic children. No Catholic teacher to be employed by the larger non-Catholic sector. No doubt this proposal would be opposed before you could say Opus Dei, but what is good for the imprimatur goose is good for the gander.

I have been to the mountain top. I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you but I'll respect your beliefs if you respect mine.

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