The biggest employer of teachers in Catholic schools wants legislation scrapped that allows schools to “legally discriminate” on religious grounds.
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) believes the legislation that dates back to 1976 is outdated.
Chief executive Jim Clarke told yesterday's education committee at Stormont: “We are in agreement that FETO (Fair Employment and Treatment Order, Teachers' Exemption) should go.”
Teaching jobs are exempt from the legislation meaning that schools can lawfully discriminate on the grounds of religious belief in the appointment of teachers.
Eugene O'Neill, head of HR, finance and governance at CCMS described discriminating on the grounds of religion as “abhorrent”.
“We are quite happy as a council to see that exemption being removed,” he said, while Mr Clarke added: “We would not be obstructing that or seeking to obstruct the removal of that exemption.”
It also emerged that the committee has written to the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) asking if it plans to remove the exemption that has led to the perception that Catholic schools only employ Catholic teachers and controlled schools only employ Protestant teachers.
The issue arose during a briefing on the teachers' certificate in religious education, which a teacher must hold before taking up a Catholic primary school post.
Statistics indicate that those who do not hold the certificate have 50% less job opportunities.
In the current climate of significant education cuts, falling pupil numbers and redundancies, concerns had been raised about access to employment for teachers not holding the certificate.
In April CCMS moved to change its policy so that all teachers facing redundancy irrespective of their religious background will be able to take redeployment to a Catholic primary school on the understanding that they obtain the certificate within three years.
Mr Clarke said: “We feel it's time for a review of the providers of the certificate.
“We want to increase access to the certificate... for people coming into education from other sectors that is not necessarily the case.”
Mr O'Neill stated that the move should “break down perception that there is a cold house” within Catholic schools for Protestants.
However, unionists have questioned why there is even a need for such a certificate.
DUP education spokesman, Mervyn Storey (below) said: “I can't understand how a person who teaches in a Catholic school requires the certificate to teach other subjects — other than religion... there's not a Catholic way of teaching maths and a Protestant way of teaching maths.”
Mr Clarke responded: “I am sure you are not asking the Catholic sector to set aside its ethos. We are not going to dilute our ethos.”
Both Alliance's Trevor Lunn and the SDLP's Sean Rogers welcomed the changes that come into effect for redeployed teachers in September, but are expected to become universal for all appointments in 2014.