Flagship Academies Programme Poses Potential Discrimination Issues

The Government’s flagship academies programme could be the cause of teachers facing religious discrimination, according to some lawyers. The National Secular Society (NSS) looked into the implications surrounding teachers’ rights regarding a new legislation that they feared would breach European law. The issue was the policy on faith schools recruitment.

The current policy dictates local authority faith schools’ teaching staff can be recruited at no more than 20 per cent on the grounds of religious conviction. Michael Gove, Education Secretary is looking into raising this number to 100 percent. This Education Bill would threaten the jobs of hundreds of teachers who would be left out of the running for jobs based on their religious beliefs.

Teachers are exempt from teaching religion at local authority maintained schools. In fact they have the right to refuse to reach religion based on their own beliefs or lack of belief. The new Bill would not allow for such an exemption.

Legal advisors believe that such changes will more than likely breach EU law. Beachcroft LLP specialises in education and provided a statement regarding the proposed Bill which indicated they believed there would be “strong grounds” the Government would breach its obligation to protect not only teachers but others from religious discrimination. Further the director of the NSS, Keith Porteous Wood feels that this will effect hundreds of thousands of teachers and support staff who could be overlooked or even “clandestinely removed” from positions.

There has already been a formal complaint lodged by the NSS with the European Commission. There is a strong feeling that this could potentially be one of the most severe threats to religion and belief employment staff with serious repercussions. The Department of Education feels that the claims made by the NSS are “misleading”.

According to the Department the Bill will not reduce protection and will not breach European or domestic laws. They also contend that there are safeguards in place though academies legislation that will continue to protect the rights of a religious education teacher as well as those who do not have a particular faith or different faiths.

It is not just the Bill but Mr Gove himself who could be brought before the courts. In fact this would be the second time Mr Gove has been before the courts. A plan to scrap a school building programme was found unlawful by the High Court recently.

In theory, a religious education teacher might find more openings if the contentious Bill were to be passed.

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