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Threat to recruiting rights

21 September 2011

by Margaret Holness Education Correspondent

CHURCH of England schools, when they become academies, should lose the right to recruit Christian heads and teachers, the House of Lords was told last week.

The concept of “reserved teach­ers” in voluntary controlled schools was challenged in amendments to the Education Bill by Lady Turner and Lord Avebury, both prominent secularists. Lady Turner, a vice-president of the British Humanist Association, and Lord Avebury, who was “Secularist of the Year” in 2009, argued during the Committee Stage of the Bill that the category failed to comply with European directives on equality and human rights.

Their view was backed by a legal opinion from David Wolfe, a barris­ter with Matrix Chambers, Lord Avebury said. The opinion had been obtained by the Equality and Human Right Commission after “persistent representations” from the National Secular Society.

The opinion has been challenged by the National Society’s legal ad­visors, Lee Bolton Monier-Williams, and it is understood that experts from the Department for Education (DfE) also believe current legislation on employment in church schools complies with European law.

The amendments were with­drawn, although they could be brought back at the Report Stage early next month. On present evid­ence, it is unlikely that they would receive government support.

Lord Hill, the Schools Minister in the Lords, told peers last week: “We ac­cept that faith schools should have freedoms to employ certain staff according to religious considera­tions. Those freedoms are there for a reason: to maintain their ethos and to provide the sort of education parents want.”

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