Council for Catholic Maintained Schools clashes with trade union over fair employment legislation

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools has defended what a trade union has termed ‘discrimination’ in the recruitment of teachers in Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 5:27 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 12:23 pm
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools says legal exemptions in teacher recruitment should remain in place.

The comments come after a leading teachers’ union called for changes to equality legislation in Northern Ireland to ensure applicants for teaching jobs cannot be discriminated against.

The recruitment of teachers is exempt from The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1988 outlawing religious discrimination. It is not currently unlawful to discriminate against someone in an appointment process on the basis of their religious belief.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ biennial conference in Belfast on Tuesday heard a call to end the exemption. NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said the law compromises efforts to tackle prejudice.

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“Discrimination is damaging to children’s education and to the wellbeing and careers of teachers,” he said. “This legislation is compromising efforts to tackle prejudice and hatred and conflicts with the goal of social inclusion which schools should be working to nurture and promote,” he said.

In May the Assembly unanimously supported a UUP motion to end to lawful religious discrimination when appointing teachers. A previous UUP motion in 2016 was blocked by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

Today, Alliance, SDLP, DUP, UUP and Ulster Teachers Union all confirmed that they backed the NASUWT call. Sinn Fein did not comment.

The Department of Education referred the News Letter to the The Executive Office, which it said has responsibility for the legislation. It responded that ministers are “committed to reviewing the exemption in respect of the appointment of teachers”.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) said responded that “parents have the right enshrined in the European Convention and other international instruments, to ensure that the education and teaching of their children is in conformation with their own religious and philosophical convictions”.

It said it was “actively considering its position on the issue” but believed the exemption “should remain in place until such time as any proposals for its repeal can be demonstrated to give complete confidence to the future of, in our case, Catholic education”. The CCMS employs 6,500 teachers in 450 schools.