Catholic schools body in Northern Ireland wants to end discrimination

By staff writers
June 6, 2013

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has called for laws allowing faith schools to discriminate on religious grounds in relation to the employment of teachers to end.

CCMS was set up to support and act as an advocate for the state-maintained Catholic Schools sector in Northern Ireland, and among its responsibilities include employing all of the schools' teachers.

Its Council members are drawn from parents, teachers, as well as other individuals proposed by the Department of Education (Northern Ireland) and Church authorities.

Speaking at a meeting of the Committee for Education of the Northern Ireland Assembly at the end of last month, the Chief Executive of the CCMS, Jim Clarke, said that the Council agreed that the rules that allowed schools to discriminate in employment "should go".

Clarifying the orgainsation’s position, Eugene O’Neill, the CCMS Head of HR, finance and cooperate governance added: "Our Council finds the notion of discrimination on the grounds of one’s religion abhorrent. It is on record as saying that. We do not believe that, in 2013, there is a place for that exemption of teachers from fair employment. We, as a council, are quite happy for that exemption to be removed."

The chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, commented: "Experience from Northern Ireland’s sectarian education system offers important lessons that policy makers in Britain are still failing to learn from."

He continued: "If schools employ teachers who hold the same religious views, and often the same views as the family of pupils, then they pose a greater threat to community cohesion by making themselves more religiously ghettoised, and by having discrimination an institutionalised part of school life."

"The position of the CCSM is therefore to be welcomed," said Dr Romain. It underlines a powerful message that faith discrimination in employment at faith schools is neither proportionate nor justified, and that staff can still uphold a religious or philosophical ethos at a school without the need of being discriminated against."

The developments in Northern Ireland coincide with a growing debate in Scotland in relation to 'religious observance' in assemblies, and the development of a Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) in England and Wales.

The Accord Coalition, of which the Christian think-tank Ekklesia is a co-founder, seeks the reform of faith schools, an end to discrimination based on religion in schooling, and full inclusion in all publicly funded schools. It draws together a wide range of religious and non-religious bodies and individuals drawn together by those goals.

* Accord Coalition: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/

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