1. Skip to content

National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Soon, Teaching Assistants and Possibly Even the School Secretary Will Have To Be God-Fearing Christians

In a move that has infuriated secularists, the Church of England is proposing that non teachers jobs in the 7,000 “faith” schools could be reserved for practitioners of the school’s religion. Almost all of England’s faith schools are Christian.

In an amendment just tabled in the House of Lords to the Education and Inspections Bill, the Bishops of Southwell and Peterborough. are demanding the removal of the ban on discrimination in employment of non-teaching staff by reason of the staff’s “religious opinions or of [their] attending or omitting to attend religious worship”.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “We have never been convinced by the Church of England’s constant reassurances that their schools are ‘inclusive’ and, implicitly, equally welcoming to non-believers and people from other religions. So it comes as no surprise to us that they now want to make sure that some support staff are practising Christians. If this isn’t making these schools even more exclusive, I can’t imagine what would.”

“Read literally, the Church’s amendment would exempt catering, janitorial or secretarial functions from the current ban on discrimination. But the Church now claims they do not wish the exemption to be as wide, as an exemption for catering staff, for example, would breach the employment Regulations. Had the Church wished to be open and clear it should have specified exactly which jobs it wished to exempt, rather than implying it applied to all non-teaching staff, it could have tabled a much simpler and more specific amendment.

We think their amendment gives a dangerously misleading impression to those unfamiliar with the Employment Regulations that discrimination against all non-teachers is fair game. Even those few school staff who realise that this law needs to be read and interpreted in conjunction with other legislation will blanch at the prospect of taking on the Church in an employment case.

Even if it is only classroom assistants that are exempted from the discrimination ban, we totally oppose this. It is not necessary for such staff to be religious, especially as all staff are already contractually bound to follow the ethos of the school. If the amendment passes it would cause great hardship as many of the 7,000 schools are in rural areas where the schools are the largest employer for miles around. It is unfair and inequitable to discriminate in this way, especially as the salaries of these staff come entirely from public funds.


Published Tue, 18 Jul 2006