A new code of conduct for teachers has been redrafted in an attempt to calm fears that religious staff could be disciplined at work because of their faith.
The General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) had originally proposed ‘diversity’ wording which was based on a controversial nurses code of conduct.
That nurses code came under fire earlier this year when it was used to justify the suspension of a Christian NHS nurse who offered to pray for a patient.
Christian teachers were concerned that adopting the wording from the nurses code could result in them being disciplined because of their faith.
Similar concerns were raised by the Church of England, The Catholic Education Service and the Association of Christian Teachers.
A legal opinion on the teachers code by top employment lawyer John Bowers QC warned that the code could be open to a legal challenge.
He said the code could “lead to a ‘chilling effect’, creating a culture where teachers hide their faith, fearing adverse consequences”.
The GTCE has now altered the wording of the code in a bid to allay religious liberty concerns. The new code will come into force in October.
Sarah Stephens, director of policy at the GTCE, said: “The draft code has been amended to take account of a wide variety of responses and comments from a range of individuals and organisations, which were used as a body of evidence in the redrafting process.”
The National Secular Society is upset that the GTCE has taken account of the concerns of Christian teachers.
Terry Sanderson, chairman of the Society, said: “It is a disgraceful capitulation to the worst kind of religious agitation”.
He added: “these religious bigots have managed to water down the code to the extent that it could become counterproductive.”
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “We have yet to study the new wording in detail, but we are pleased that the GTCE has been willing to address the genuine concerns of Christian teachers.
“Good Christian teachers respect individuals and promote equality of opportunity.
“But there was a real concern that the original draft code would have gone further than this.
“If a child asks a question about a teacher’s faith, a Christian teacher shouldn’t be disciplined for giving an open and honest answer about what they believe.
“Nor should they be forced to promote ideas or behaviour with which they disagree. Under the code as previously drafted there was a real danger this would happen.”