Magi Mike's Blog

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Faith Schools Ignore Social Justice and Equity Issues

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Faith based schools are on the rise in the UK. The UK Government, and former PM (Piety Minister?), Tony Blair, think faith schools contribute to choice and diversity, and raise educational standards, but are religious values at odds with legislation on equality? New research in Ireland shows what happens when school values and those of the state diverge, with unfortunate consequences for gay students and staff.

Gerry McNamara and James Norman, of Dublin City University, investigated whether giving control of a school’s ethos and philosophy to churches or other organisations can lead to unfair policies and practices. It is so in the Republic of Ireland where the vast majority of schools are owned and managed by the Catholic Church, though funded by the state.

Ireland has introduced a comprehensive and advanced set of legislation on equality, but gay and lesbian teachers in schools were fearful for their positions. The state measures to encourage equality, and protect minorities—such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students—are often not supported in these schools. A legislative loophole allows schools to sack LGBT teachers as “against their ethos”. It means faith schools operate in what McNamara describes as “an equality vacuum”, where it is not clear what their obligations are under the equality legislation. The reason is the Church had sought and obtained exemption from the legislation which was meant to protect minorities from discrimination in employment. The research has obvious implications for schoolteachers in all faith schools, including those in the UK.

Could something similar happen in faith schools in the UK? The authors conclude that, if faith schools in Britain are to be further encouraged, the state should retain the power to require schools to comply with such legislation as equality laws and with the prevailing standards of justice and tolerance in the wider society.

The research showed Catholic schools were unwilling to address LGBT issues under sex education, flouting national policy. Worse still, teachers’ failure to respond to homophobic bullying in schools was common. McNamara says:

Fundamentally, it is the responsibility of all those who are identified as leaders within the school community to ensure that practical steps are taken to challenge and respond to homophobic bullying.

Do teachers and school leaders feel constrained or even intimidated by the power structures within which they operate. McNamara found:

There was little indication at leadership level that concerns about social justice and equity were leading to a willingness to take potentially controversial initiatives, and this timidity seems to percolate down through the staff structure.

The Catholic Church primarily runs schools not to provide choice and diversity or to raise standards, but to promote faith and religious knowledge among young people. So these schools reflect the teachings and ethos of the church acting as their patron, not the state that pays them.

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Written by mikemagee

2 September, 2010 at 8:30 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] the original post here: Faith Schools Ignore Social Justice and Equity Issues « Magi … By admin | category: DUBLIN City University | tags: churches-or-other, DUBLIN City […]

  2. […] controversial initiatives, and this timidity seems to percolate down through the staff …Read More… var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_localize = { Share: "Share", Save: "Save", Subscribe: […]


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