Blair gives churches even more power to discriminate against thousands of staff at “faith schools”

The careers of tens of thousands of staff in publicly-funded faith schools have been put at risk because the Government has swept aside long-standing legal bans on discrimination against staff who do not share the religion of the school or do not have a religion at all. The Commons passed the change last night as part of the Education and Inspections Bill, refusing even to answer many of the objections raised. An amendment to reverse the move was defeated by 28 votes to 325.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said: “This was a massive defeat for workers in so-called faith schools who are non-religious or of another religion. They have just been rendered second class citizens. Workplace protections which they had taken for granted have now been swept away without any consultation or warning.

“There appears to be no limit to what Mr Blair is prepared to do to satisfy the never-ending demands of the churches. He has not only betrayed these thousands of employees, he has betrayed the unions representing them and betrayed Parliament by seeking to bring in this measure in such an underhand way.

“The real message from last week’s U-turn on school admissions quotas was that it is the churches that call the tune in our schools. The price the Government was happy to pay to appease church leaders was to accept that faith schools could do what they liked on admissions even if that created an apartheid education system.

“This week’s Government concession to the churches is to betray non-religious staff in the 7,000 faith schools, even though their running costs are paid 100% by the taxpayer.

“The Government was so eager to placate the churches that it tried to slip the changes in at the very last moment with Machiavellian amendments clearly designed to pass unnoticed.

“When the amendments were uncovered by the National Secular Society, peers and unions accused education minister Lord Adonis of a complete failure to consult them on such an important change. Lord Adonis insisted that unions had been “thoroughly consulted” (Lords 30 Oct 2006 : Column 53).

“Yet it emerged last night in the Commons that neither the largest teaching union, the NUT, nor the National Association of Head Teachers, had been consulted at all – despite head teachers being those most affected by the changes. The other group caught up in this newly legalised discrimination are support staff. The GMB union, which represents them, has issued a statement expressing its dismay at the changes, about which it states it had not been consulted."

Most of those speaking out against the changes in Parliament were Honorary Associates of the National Secular Society. Lady Turner of Camden led the attack in the House of Lords, in which Lord Avebury also played a leading part. Dr Evan Harris led the opposition in the Commons assisted by Paul Holmes.

Lords (start at Col 50 “5.39pm”)
Commons (start at col 510)