Faith school permitted to sack cohabiting teacher

February 19, 2019

A landmark Employment Tribunal which in 2017 ruled that a faith nursery school teacher was religiously discriminated against for being sacked for being in a cohabiting relationship has been overturned by an Appeal. Although the Appeal has upheld original findings that the teacher was discriminated on other grounds, it has found that the school did not religiously discriminate for sacking them because cohabiting went against its religious tenets.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘This is a confusing and unsettling ruling that highlights how thousands of faith school teachers across the country may be uniquely vulnerable to religious discrimination. Rather than allow fresh uncertainty to fester, the Government should remove exemptions from equality law that some faith schools believe grants them a broad ability to religiously discriminate in the recruitment and employment of teachers. Teachers do not need to be discriminated against to uphold a faith school’s ethos, and discrimination should not be a part of school life.’

The ability of faith schools to religiously discriminate in the recruitment and employment of teachers has been long contested. In 2016 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) added its weight to calls that the ability of faith schools in Britain to religiously discriminate against teachers should be curtailed and may be incompatible with European Union law, and so be illegitimate.

It is difficult to gather evidence about teachers being religiously discriminated against as government does not actively monitor the situation, while disciplinary matters are usually treated confidentially. The Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education has however come across other examples of teachers being discriminated against on religious grounds. Some of these are listed immediately below and demonstrate how invasive and disproportionate religious discrimination in this area can be:

One Response to Faith school permitted to sack cohabiting teacher

  1. James Gray on February 19, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    I think we have to be careful here. We’d normally say that a school or indeed any other organisation, is justified in sacking someone whose behaviour or language undermined its reputation or its ethos. Indeed, school contracts routinely proscribe membership of far right organisations for precisely that reason, and no-one complains. Faith schools have every moral right, it seems to me, to insist that the behaviour and language of their staff reflect the underlying religious nature of each of these schools. A school which values and promotes Christian holiness has every right to expect that its staff act and speak in holy ways. This undoubtedly might be seen to discriminate against those who don’t believe in the same things, and might well catch out those who cohabit, are in homosexual relationships or get pregnant outside marriage, but really a school can’t say, “We promote holiness – except when staff disagree.” Those who disagree with a school’s ethos simply should not apply for a job there, and applying then whingeing when you don’t get the job or when things go wrong, is simply dishonest. Life is not a free for all.

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