SCOTTISH CATHOLIC EDUCATION SERVICE
Briefing notes on
‘Guidance to Education Authorities and Schools on the Equality Act 2006′
(issued by Scottish Executive 14 August 2007)
The Scottish Executive has issued this guidance to help all schools understand their obligations under relevant parts of the Equality Act and its related Regulations.Given the particular sensitivity of some of the issues covered in this guidance, it is vital that Head Teachers of Catholic schools are fully aware of the implications of the Act and of the specific exemptions which apply to denominational schools.This briefing note is intended to highlight the most significant issues for Catholic schools.
Catholic schools are naturally disposed towards respecting, valuing and celebrating the lives of all pupils, given their Christian commitment to love of God and neighbour. Thus, the intentions of the Equality Act – in its principles – should not pose any particular difficulties for Catholic schools.
As education authorities involve schools in reviewing their policies and practices in the light of this guidance, Head Teachers of Catholic schools should ensure that they observe the specific exemptions to the provisions of the Act which are intended to protect the values ethos and character of the Catholic school.
The provisions of the Equality Act came into force on 30th April 2007 and apply to the whole of Great Britain.Part 2 of the Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief when goods, facilities and services are provided (including education and other services delivered by schools).Part 3 of the Act makes discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation unlawful in a number of areas, including education in schools.
Specific exemptions for denominational schools
§ While denominational schools are open to pupils of all faiths or none, religious belief can be taken into account when determining priority for admissions.Exemptions allow education authorities to give preference to children of a particular religion when deciding to grant placing requests to denominational schools.
2 In celebrating their own faith tradition, Catholic schools:
§ can provide the pastoral and liturgical services of a priest, providing for the religious, spiritual and moral support of staff, pupils and parents.They cannot be required to provide the services of another religious leader.
§ can organise pupil visits to a Catholic church or religious shrine.They cannot be required to organise visits places of worship of other denominations or faiths.
§ can maintain practices specific to the Catholic faith and ethos.They cannot be required to alter liturgical practices to accommodate someone of another faith or none.
§ can celebrate events specific to the Catholic faith, such as liturgical celebrations on feast days and seasons.They cannot be required to hold equivalent celebrations of events specific to other faiths.
Exceptions within the Act
§ The Equality Act does not allow legal challenge (on grounds of religions belief) to the content of the curriculum.A parent could not use the Act to challenge a Catholic school because of its Catholic religious education provision.
§ Religious observance remains a statutory part of educational provision for all pupils. All organised acts of worship and religious observance are exempted from the prohibition on discrimination under the Equality Act.
§ Education authorities are allowed by the Act to provide free or subsidised transport for certain pupils, in line with previous arrangements.So, a Council can provide Catholic pupils with free transport to travel 5 miles to the nearest Catholic school, while not being required by the Act to make the same arrangement for a non-Catholic pupil whose parents make a placing request to the same school.
Schools must not discriminate against pupils on grounds of their sexual orientation, or that of their parents.This includes actions in terms of admissions to school, exclusions from school, the treatment of bullying and the provision of extra-curricular activities.
The guidance explicitly refers to Catholic schools having the right to deliver religious and moral teaching in accordance with guidance provided by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual persons “must be accepted with compassion, respect and sensitivity” and that “every sign of unjust discrimination . .. should be avoided”. (CCC # 2358).
Further advice and clarification on any points arising from this guidance, or from aspects of this legislation, can be sought from the Scottish Catholic Education Service.
Scottish Catholic Education Service