On the vexed question of religious ethos

18th April 2008 at 01:00
An important aspect of the employment appeal tribunal finding on the David McNab v Glasgow City Council case has been largely overlooked by the media and is not highlighted in Alex Wood's article "Religious schooling has its price" (TESS, April 4).

The tribunal concluded that only employers having "a religious ethos" could declare that a particular religious belief was "a genuine and determining occupational requirement" for any post within their service, and that a local authority could not be regarded as having a religious ethos.

It is hard to see how the historic 1918 agreement with the Roman Catholic authorities can survive this judgment. Any non-Catholic candidate who is turned down for any teaching post in a local authority Catholic school could now go to a tribunal and claim a breach of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) regulations 2003. These are UK regulations not open to amendment by the Scottish Parliament.

Glasgow City Council, being the first authority in the firing line, has tried to resolve the problem by applying its mainstream (non-denominational) appointment procedures for teaching posts in Catholic schools. The council will turn a blind eye to the religious ethos issue, select the best candidate and submit the name of that candidate to the Catholic authorities for approval. But it will only be a matter of time before a well-qualified, non-Catholic candidate who is selected by the employer and then disapproved by the Catholic hierarchy goes to a tribunal.

Sooner or later, we must face the absurdity of the current situation, as outlined by Mr Wood. Any Catholic, Jewish or Muslim school will require to have an arm's length relationship with the education authorities, managed by an independent board of governors and raising a proportion of its funds from denominational sources.

Where this becomes impractical or where there is insufficient local support for such a solution, the only way out will be total integration of a school into the local authority and abolition of external approval procedures for members of its staff.

Fred Forrester, North Larches, Dunfermline.

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