Gay rights clause could lead to disciplining of Christian teachers
A Christian charity is today publishing a report which raises grave concerns over new teachers’ regulations which could require them to change their beliefs. The charity’s concerns are backed up by legal advice from a leading QC specialising in Employment Law which the report quotes in full.
The General Teaching Council for England (GTC), the new regulator for the teaching profession, published a draft professional code earlier this year. Clause 5 of the code requires all teachers to challenge prejudice and fully respect differences of sexual orientation. The Christian Institute argues that this could lead to Christian teachers being disciplined for their beliefs since mainstream Christianity holds that homosexual practice, like all sexual activity outside of marriage, is morally wrong.
Despite the fact that under the law all pupils in state schools must be taught about the importance of marriage, under the new code Christian teachers caught promoting marriage could be disciplined by their LEA using the GTC’s code.
The GTC has received a “very large number of responses” in its consultation on the code. Its introduction has been delayed until February 2002 whilst it considers the concerns that have been expressed.
In a legal opinion John Bowers QC, prominent employment and human rights barrister and author of Blackstone’s Bowers on Employment Law, states that teachers who are genuinely seeking to follow their own conscience and beliefs could have disciplinary measures taken against them if LEAs and Governing Bodies decide to enforce the code (para 16 of the opinion).
The GTC argue that they will only enforce the code in limited circumstances, but the QC’s legal advice argues that it is very likely that employment tribunals will use the code in their proceedings and that it is inevitable that LEAs and governing bodies will take the code into account when deciding on whether to dismiss teachers (paras 4,5).
The application of the code may result in breaches of teachers’ human rights under articles 9,10 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (para 14).
The legal opinion argues that the GTC’s code “may lead to teachers or applicants for teaching posts being forced to take lengthy and costly legal proceedings to pursue their legal rights.” (para 16).
No need for Clause 5
Education Minister Stephen Timms argues that Clause 5 is necessary to ensure that teachers protect pupils from bullying. Whilst agreeing that all pupils must be protected from bullying, the report questions whether Clause 5 is the best way to do it and why some of the most common grounds for bullying are omitted but others are included. The bullying of slow learners or children because of physical characteristics such as short height or being fat are not covered.
The report argues that it would be better if there was a general statement about bullying rather than the mention of only some grounds of bullying.
The report points out that two of the main studies on “homophobic bullying” do not include any homosexual pupils. Yet the claim is still made that homophobic bullying is rife. Researchers have claimed that because children use the word “gay” as a term of abuse this constitutes homophobic bullying. The report disagrees and points out that name calling is common and involves many terms of abuse.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said today
“Clause 5 could well lead to teachers being disciplined for their religious or moral beliefs. Our concerns are very real and are clearly supported by the legal advice we have received. I hope that the GTC will amend Clause 5 which, as drafted, has serious implications for religious liberties.
The GTC must recognise that their code has legal status. Employers in taking disciplinary action against teachers will inevitably use it.
Rather than special pleading for certain types of bullying victims, we need an approach which says that all forms of bullying are wrong and which deals firmly with bullies, whoever their victims are. Once you start making lists of types of bullying, you start excluding whole categories of victims. For example, there is nothing in the code proposed by the GTC to specifically protect slow-learners or overweight children or those who are poor at sport.”
Note for Editors:
(1) The Christian Institute is a charity which seeks to promote the Christian faith in the UK and give a Christian perspective on moral and ethical issues.
(2) All teachers in state schools must be registered with the GTC.
(3) Clause 5 of the Draft Professional Code published by the General Teaching Council for England in May 2001 states:
“Teachers recognise diversity and work to ensure the rights of individuals to develop. They fully respect differences of gender, marital status, religion, colour, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability. Teacher professionalism involves challenging prejudice and stereotypes to ensure equality of opportunity.”
(4) The Christian Institute only objects to Clause 5 of the code.