Belfast Telegraph

Teaching certificate is unfair

By Jeffrey Dudgeon

The statement in the Assembly earlier this month by John O'Dowd, the Minister for Education, when he called for the removal of the requirement for new teachers to have the Catholic certificate of religious education for Catholic primary schools, is welcome.

However, it only emphasises the need for abolition of the long-standing exception in fair employment law for teaching appointments.

Without the change in that law, schools will still be permitted legally to discriminate in appointments, as they have - amazingly - since 1976.

In 2013 an Ulster Unionist Party motion in the Assembly calling for repeal of the teacher exception was passed.

It was supported by all parties except the SDLP.

The fair employment law exception for teachers is unique, covers 20,000 jobs, and was never warranted.

As, by order of the education boards, it is not now permitted to discriminate in controlled school appointments, it is thus a dead letter and never used in the State sector.

There is, however, an existing and large chill factor problem, as trained Protestant teachers are still not applying for posts in Catholic secondary schools where the certificate is not required, yet Catholics are being appointed in some numbers in controlled secondary and primary schools.

Without this key change the shared education supported by the UUP can never prosper. Unless schools have interchangeable staff, the whole project will not be balanced and, for practical reasons, will not work.

As a South Belfast representative on Belfast City Council, whose area includes Stranmillis College, I would urge the board of governors of that college to enable its students to maximise their chances of gaining teaching jobs in a highly competitive market by starting a course on site teaching the Catholic certificate.

It will benefit both the many Catholic students in Stranmillis and those from a Protestant and non-Christian minority ethnic background, who can teach in Catholic schools if they obtain the certificate, as a handful already do by distant learning.

  • Jeffrey Dudgeon is an Ulster Unionist member of Belfast City Council

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