Faith schools - applying for a role

Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting.

 

ASCL members concerned about leadership issues should call the Hotline on 0116 299 1122 or email hotline@ascl.org.uk
 
Q: I’m an assistant headteacher and I’m thinking of applying for a post as deputy at a local faith school. The problem is I’m a practising believer of a different faith. The information about the post states that whilst it would be preferable to be of that faith, it is not obligatory. Do you see any particular issues for me if I was to apply?

A: Special Equality Act rules for roles in religion could apply where the religion’s doctrine is key to the job – a headteacher of a faith school would certainly come under this, as might certain members of the leadership team, if the religious doctrine were key to their post.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has published a new guide, Religion or Belief Discrimination: Key points for the workplace. Acas guidance states that it is not enough for an employer to simply decide they would prefer, for example, not to employ someone who does not hold a particular protected characteristic or particular belief. Any such requirement must:
  • be crucial to the post, and not just one of several important factors, and
  • relate to the nature of the job, and
  • be ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. If there is any reasonable and less discriminatory way of achieving the same aim, it is unlikely the employer could claim an occupational requirement.
The guidance also covers issues such as behaviours and duties, and handling requests for religion or belief. The guidance on the Equality Act 2010 for schools also has guidance for recruitment to faith schools.
However, you should also think seriously about expectations of schools with regard to attending or even, in the case of a senior post, leading prayers, and/or aspects of observance, which may conflict with your own. Acas suggests that an employer may have clear policies for employees on making requests, and managers handling them, on matters including:
  • leave, breaks and time away from work for reasons of religion or belief
  • dress code and appearance
  • use of any prayer or multi-faith space or room
  • being excused from certain tasks because of religion or belief
Therefore, you should ascertain these before either applying for or accepting the post.
 

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