An Islamic boy’s school in Leicester, central England, advertised for a new science teacher but ruled out any female applicants. Secular campaigners are saying this is the latest example of religious practices being accommodated in the education system.
The advert, which was published by the outsourcing company Capita and has now been withdrawn,asked for a “Male Science Teacher” to cover classes on a short-term contract earning up to £150 ($250) a day, the Telegraph reports.
The school, which did not give its name, is now facing claims of sexual discrimination. Capita withdrew the advert after a warning from the Department for Education (DfE) that it needs to comply with the Equality Act. The advert is thought to have been placed by the Madani Schools Federation, which runs the state funded Madani Boys School. The school has placed a similar advert for a Male ICT Technician.
The National Secular Society (NSS)– a charity which campaigns for the separation of religion from the state – say they were alerted to the advert by a qualified female science teacher who was looking for work in the Leicester area.
The NSS believes that this the latest in long line of demands that religious customs be accommodated in the education system, as a result of allowing faith groups to run schools.
Capita initially argued that discrimination in this case was permissible under exceptions to the Equality Act, which permits religious organizations to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation and gender if a “genuine occupation requirement” can be established and where an employer is seeking to comply with strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of its followers.
“These provisions are referred to as occupational requirements and they create exceptions that allow an employer to act in a way that would otherwise be discriminatory,” a spokesman for Capita said.
But the NSS argued that the explanatory notes to the 2010 Act make it clear that exceptions only apply to a “very narrow range of employment.”
The Department of Education has now issued a statement saying “Schools must comply with equality law. We asked Leicester City Council to raise this with the school and the advert has now been withdrawn.”
The NSS also say that schools with a religious ethos are already permitted to discriminate against teachers who don’t share the school’s faith.
Allegations surfaced last autumn that Non-Muslim female staff at the Al-Madinah free school in Derby were forced to wear headscarves in line with other strict Islamic practices, including segregating boys and girls. The school has since been closed down by the government who found that the level of teaching was unacceptably bad.
The Madani high school for girls also faced earlier criticism for forcing non-Muslim students to wear a headscarf. The school is required by law to accept 10 percent of its 600 pupils from non-Muslim backgrounds.
Meanwhile, three Muslim schools in London, Lancashire and Leicester, respectively, were found to be forcing Muslim girls as young as 11 to wear the full face covering veil in 2010.
And early this month it was reported by the British media that Park View Academy in Birmingham is being investigated by the DfE over claims that non-Muslim staff are being treated unfairly and that it is trying to introduce Islamic studies to the curriculum despite being a non-faith-based school.
As a result of the latest advert, the NSS has written to Maria Miller MP, the minister for Woman and Equalities, to push the government to publish guidance to make it clear to schools that gender discrimination must not be accommodated in the education system.
“The government’s encouragement of schools run by religious groups will bring with it increasing demands for religious customs and practices to be accommodated within our education system. Children in such schools are unlikely to be adequately prepared for life as equal citizens in a liberal democracy – which should be one of the fundamental aims of education policy,” Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the NSS, said in a statement.