BY MARK GREAVES
THE independence of faith schools suffered a blow this week as a landmark legal ruling awarded an atheist teacher £2,000 compensation because he was not given a job at a Catholic school.
An employment tribunal found in favour of a maths teacher at St Paul's Roman Catholic High School in Glasgow after he was turned down for a post because he was not Catholic.
Although the ruling confirms the right of the Church to approve teaching appointments at Catholic schools in Scotland, it forbids reserving particular posts for Catholic candidates.
The verdict, based specifically on Scottish law, will not apply in England and Wales, where posts can still be reserved for candidates of a particular faith.
But according to retired headteacher Eric Hester the ruling is part of a wider trend that restricts the right of Catholic schools to choose the best candidates. "It would be a nonsense if Catholic schools were not allowed to appoint those who support the ethos of the school," he said. "This is what they have always done and what they were founded for."
Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, insists the ruling will strengthen the position of the Church in Scotland.
"The rights of the Catholic Church to choose candidates based on their character and religious faith have been affirmed by this verdict.
"In this case, the difficulty arose because the school was only applying these criteria for c.ertain posts. But the ruling has underlined the legitimacy of the Church in approving teachers for Scotland's Catholic schools."
The tribunal declared that teacher David McNab had been "unlawfully discriminated against on the grounds of religion", in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights. When Mr McNab applied to become acting principal teacher of pastoral care 18 months ago he was told that he could not be considered for the post without the approval of the Church. Mr McNab had worked at the school as a maths teacher sir= 1991.
The system of "reserved posts" exists in some Catholic schools in the west of Scotland against the wishes of the Church.
A senior figure in the Church has welcomed the findings of the tribunal. The source said: "Glasgow city council's interpretation of the law was flawed. "They said to this man, 'You are excluded from applying because you are not a Catholic' and this is wrong. He should have been allowed to apply."
Mr McGrath said in an official statement: "The Catholic Church was not involved in this case and will study the full judgment in detail when it becomes available."