Alex Salmond recently made explicit his support for the Scotland’s present system of denominational schools and discussed the possibility of extending ‘faith’ schools from the RC sector and the solitary Jewish school to a wider range of religions. There is a proper debate about whether that would be a good thing.
Meanwhile it is worth considering the impact of denominational schooling on teachers’ employment rights. The 1991 Agreement between Glasgow City Council and the Roman Catholic Church provided that non-Catholic teachers could be appointed to any post in a Catholic school except that of head teacher, principal or assistant principal teacher of guidance or religious education, principal teacher of biology, teacher of religious education or senior teacher in a primary school. The formal position however is that all appointments to all posts in Roman Catholic schools require church approval.
David McNab, an atheist Maths teacher at St Paul’s in Glasgow, took the City of Glasgow Council to an industrial tribunal when his application for a Principal Teacher, Pastoral Care post was blocked on the grounds of his not being a Catholic. He won. His case however is by no means unique.
A long-serving Principal Teacher in a denominational secondary, an elder of the Church of Scotland, a committed Christian who had given long, loyal service to his school, was rejected on each occasion that he applied for an Assistant Headteacher’s post. To achieve the promotion he deserved, he eventually left the denominational sector. In the long-term the denominational school was the loser but in the years of unsuccessful applications it was the teacher who suffered.
It would be invidious were the considerable number of Roman Catholics who teach in the non-denominational sector to suffer discrimination in pursuing posts because of their faith. In fact of course it is non-Catholic teachers who now suffer discrimination. The Catholic teacher can apply for a post in any school, denominational or non-denominational, at any level. The non-Catholic cannot. Current thinking seems to accept the extension of this discriminatory advantage to Muslims, Sikhs and adherents of other specific religions.
The absurdity of the situation is illustrated by two parallel facts. Firstly, the denominational sector would cease effectively to be one if those who managed it were not committed to it. (From that point of view the church’s insistence on its right to discriminate for Head and Depute Head posts does follow a powerful logic.) On the other hand however, the denominational sector could not survive without the many non-Catholics who teach in it.
The key employment argument against denominational schools however, is not that a system to sustain particular religious beliefs can only be shored up by employing those who do not share those beliefs but that it requires the cash of tax-payers of many beliefs and of none. I, for one, have little problem with the Catholic Church practicing discrimination in the employment of teachers. Discrimination is at the very heart of religion. My problem is that I pay for it.
The above article was first pub;ished in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland on 4 April 2008: http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Religious-schooling-has-its-price-2602571/