Scotland’s biggest teaching union has called for teachers of non-Christian faiths to receive paid leave on their holy days.
Sandra Scott, a teacher from the union’s Edinburgh association, said she had found “discrepancies” in local authorities’ arrangements for holy days, and had even heard of “HR departments who didn’t even know they had to think about this”.
She added that the education system was better at giving students the space to celebrate religious festivals than it was teachers and other education professionals.
Addressing the AGM yesterday, she said: “Teachers from diverse backgrounds are already contributing more than they’re given credit for, by bringing an added cultural dimension to their teaching, yet they face many institutional barriers.
“Colleagues, I’ve had negative reaction from management when asking for this leave. In my own place of work, teachers fear that taking unpaid leave for holy days adversely impacts on their pension, their relationship with colleagues, and of course their standing within the establishment.”
She added: “These fears could be addressed by entitlement to unpaid leave, rather than leaving it to the discretion of headteachers. For even with the best of intentions, unconscious bias may be operating.
“It’s about more than just the money. Paid leave for holy days can have a knock-on positive effect in raising the status of non-Christian and non-white cultures and values.”
Ms Scott also said that “As teachers, we need to challenge the current climate of anti-Muslim prejudice [whose] shadow can be seen in our schools”, adding that “Several of my colleagues from minority-ethnic backgrounds encounter faith-based prejudice.”
Another EIS delegate from Edinburgh, Lorna Malarky, said: “Those who are without, or [are] disconnected from faith, are quite happy to accept the days off that are traditional at Christian holidays, or holy days, like Christmas and Easter. And that’s fair enough, but it’s quite sad that those are the very people who object to people of other faiths having time away from the workplace to celebrate their holy days.”
Ms Malarky said that, while employers may not be legally obliged to grant time off for festivals such as Eid or Passover, “giving paid leave to teachers and associate professionals who have faith, to participate in their holy days, will lead to much greater rewards, like their teamwork, team spirit [and] their differences can add to a rich tapestry of life and work in Scotland”.
A motion submitted by the EIS Edinburgh association, and carried at the AGM yesterday, instructs the union’s council to raise the matter with the Scottish Negotiating Council for Teachers (SNCT), the tripartite body – comprising members from teaching organisations, local authorities and the Scottish government – which deals with teachers’ pay and conditions.
The SNCT will be asked to consider “the need for teachers who are members of faiths other than Christianity to be given a number of days paid leave on their faiths’ holy days”.
Tes Scotland recently reported on research which identified widespread concern about the lack of promotion opportunities for black and minority ethnic teachers, prompting a call for educators to “stop sliding away” from confronting racism.