The Roman Catholic Church has hit out at plans to introduce a new code for teachers which critics say could marginalise Christians.
The General Teaching Council for England (GTC) wants to introduce ‘equality and diversity’ wording to its guidance which would be similar to that used to suspend Christian nurse Caroline Petrie after she offered to pray for a patient.
The head of the Catholic Education Service, Oona Stannard, says the wording could be used against faith schools and teachers who hold orthodox religious views.
She has warned that if the code comes into effect in its current draft form, Roman Catholic teachers could be forced to leave their jobs, or be deterred from registering in the first place.
Responding to a consultation on the planned new guidance, Miss Stannard told the GTC: “It would be unacceptable to expect anyone to be required to promote something contrary to their own faith beliefs and, indeed, it would not be possible for a person of faith to promote another faith – this is a matter of conscience.”
The draft rules would require teachers to “promote equality and value diversity in all their professional relationships and interactions”.
In her submission Miss Stannard also told the GTC that the guidance “could be used to oppose faith schools per se, and the rights that they have in law, for example, to select leaders who are of the faith”.
There are nearly 7,000 religious state schools in England. Around 2,000 are Roman Catholic, and the rest are largely Anglican or belong to other Christian denominations. There are 47 belonging to other religions.
Last year it was reported that they were outperforming other state schools at every stage of the education system.
These schools have had to defend themselves in recent months against attacks from those who say they should be stripped of their religious ethos.
One vocal opponent of faith schools, the National Secular Society (NSS), has already come out in support of the proposed wording.
NSS President Terry Sanderson said: “Who could possibly object to children being protected from the prejudices of bullies, bigots and zealots when they are captive in school?”
However, The Christian Institute has pointed out that while the guidance quite rightly calls on teachers to show proper respect for others, they should not be required to condone or promote beliefs or lifestyles that go against their conscience.
A public consultation on the draft guidance closed last week, and the GTC will now consider the responses.