Northern Ireland’s Catholic schools call for end to faith-based school employment laws

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), the representative body representing state funded Catholic schools in Northern Ireland, has called for an end to laws which allow state schools to religiously discriminate in employment. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the call, which puts the body in stark contrast to the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CESEW) and the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES).

The call follows a debate last month in the Northern Ireland Assembly on scrapping the law allowing such discrimination to take place, which saw the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, Democratic Unionist Party and Alliance Party all support the repealing of the law. A subsequent letter calling for the same thing was widely signed, and now the CCMS’s chief executive has told the education committee that ‘We are in agreement that FETO (Fair Employment and Treatment Order, Teachers' Exemption) should go.’ The CCMS has also described the law as ‘abhorrent’.

Northern Ireland is not unique in allowing such religious discrimination to occur. Denominational schools in Scotland and ‘faith’ schools in England and Wales can also religiously select staff on the basis of faith – with most religious schools being able to do so for all teaching staff. This is possible due to an exception to the Equality Act 2010. However, the BHA believes that this exception breaks the European Employment Directive, which should limit such discrimination to where there is ‘a genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement’.

The BHA introduced amendments during the passage of the Education Act 2011 to try to stop that bill from expanding such discrimination.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We welcome the debate on ending religious discrimination in employment at “faith” schools in Northern Ireland, and the widespread political support for such a change. We are also pleased to see the Catholic school sector decide to throw its support behind such changes.

‘We hope that the Catholic Education Services in England and Wales and in Scotland soon catch up to their Northern Irish counterpart and instead join us in calling for the – potentially illegal – laws allowing such discrimination here to also be scrapped.’



For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

Read yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph piece on the CCMS:

Read last month’s Northern Ireland assembly debate:

Read the open letter supporting the scrapping of the law:

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools:

View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.