NSS Calls on Government not to Destroy the Promotion Prospects of Thousands of Teachers

Press Release 11 July 2008

Government transitional safeguards to protect the jobs and promotion prospects of head teachers and teachers already in post in Voluntary Controlled faith schools breach natural justice and are discriminatory, says the National Secular Society. New legislation will permit Voluntary Controlled schools to restrict head teachers’ jobs to practising Christians whose lifestyle is approved by the Church (designated Reserved Teachers). There are approximately 3,000 Voluntary controlled schools. But the transitional arrangements, that are supposed to protect those who don’t fit these criteria but who are already in post, are flawed, says the National Secular Society. We have written to Education Secretary Ed Balls to appeal to him to change them to make them fair.

Responding to a Government consultation on the transitional arrangements Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said: “The Department for Children Schools and Families has ignored our pleas to protect the thousands of teachers in VC schools who hope to be promoted to head teacher posts in VC schools. The law has been changed to enable VC head teacher posts to be reserved for teachers with a degree of religious commitment that few will be able to muster. Natural justice demands that teachers in post before this change should not be affected by it. The Department is giving the impression that current staff are protected but the small print shows they are not.”

“We have written to Education Minister Ed Balls to reverse its decision. It is not too late. All that is necessary is to accept that for the remainder of their careers, the promotion to head teacher posts of VC teachers currently in post will not be adversely affected by the recent changes in law. What could be fairer or more reasonable?

“As they stand, though, these provisions are discriminatory, mean-minded and a totally unnecessary betrayal of thousands of hard-working teachers who have given their lives to their schools. Given the desperate shortage of good head teachers, this action seems ill-judged, to say the least. The only reason the DCSF is doing this is to appease the Church of England who sought the change. And how much does the Church of England pay for these teachers? Nothing, the entire cost is borne from public funds.
The DCSF are consulting on what they call transitional provisions for VC schools, but they are not worthy of the name. All they do is confirm that an incumbent head teacher cannot be dismissed because of the change, but such a dismissal would not be possible even if no transitional provisions had been issued.

“It is going to come as a very nasty shock to VC teachers when they discover that in future it will be possible to require that a head teacher is not only of the belief of the school, but attends church sufficiently often, can teach RE and that their private life accords with the tenets of the faith. Only a small proportion of teachers, even in VC schools, would fulfil these absurdly unreasonable requirements.

“The legal changes were made as part of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (Section 37) which the DCSF is planning to implement with effect from September. The consultation on the transitional provisions state: “Ministers decided that the position of current members of staff should be protected.” But it is limiting transitional to solely “protect head teachers as long as they remain in their posts”.

“The National Secular Society ‘blew the whistle’ on Section 37 in Parliament, provoking an ill-tempered debate in both Houses. It has also met with senior DCSF appealing for fair transitional provisions. Our pleas for natural justice and respect for these thousands of teachers fell on deaf ears, both in the debate in Parliament and later with Departmental officials.

“Another major risk for non-religious teachers is their school closing and being replaced on the same site with a Voluntary Aided school or an academy with a religious character. They are unlikely to have any employment protection against religious discrimination in such cases. We have also asked Ed Balls to introduce protection in such situations.”

11 July 2008