Page 9, 3rd October 2008

3rd October 2008
Page 9
Page 9, 3rd October 2008 — Elephant in the room

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Elephant in the room

Hugh David feels uneasy about the ban on openly gay headteachers


The fall-out from last year's row over the Government's insistence that Catholic adoption agencies must work with gay potential adoptees continues to cause chaos. More than half of the Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales have now been forced to cut their formal ties with the Church in order to continue doing their exceptional work with the most needy children. They are still Catholic but not officially Catholic.

But this is, some say, the thin end of the wedge. At the governors' meeting last week at St Peter's Catholic Primary our parish priest raised the prospect that we may be the next group to face demands from the Government that we endorse its anti-discrimination principles. At present, there is no overt suggestion in any of the Church's guidelinessto Catholic governors to say that we must not employ, as a teacher or headteacher, someone who is openly gay. We are simply told that successful candidates — especially for senior posts — must endorse in word and deed the Church's teaching. Which, of course, in effect means that — whatever our own views on the matter — we must reject those gay candidates who are honest enough to make plain their sexuality, but can happily consider those who make a secret of it.

By the terms of the Government's Sexual Orientation Regulations, brought in under the Equality Act of 2006, Catholic school governors therefore seem to be breaking the law. Since 100 per cent of the school's running costs — including teachers' salaries are paid for out of the public purse, we shouldn't be allowing such discriminatory thoughts to cloud our judgment.

The parish priest's words of warning left the governors silent. We face finding a new head next summer. I wasn't sure if it was the silent of the outraged (that the Government may find another way to circumscribe the freedom to act of governing bodies of schools of a religious character) or the silence of the saddened (that our Church's refusal to accept that we are all as God made us may potentially cause a much greater clash with the state than the adoption agency debacle) or the silence of the perplexed (envisaging a situation in which we might have to be Catholic schools but not officially Catholic schools).

One of the abiding misconceptions of this Church that I love, and in which I am educating my children, is that there is some sort of connection between homosexuality and paedophilia, that people who are attracted to adults of the same gender are somehow akin to those adults who want to use sexual violence on youngsters. Such an erroneous view informed much of the public pronouncements of Church leaders in the early days of the paedophile priests' scandal in the United States and elsewhere, and it is, I fear, the elephant in the room at any discussion of the employment of gay men and women as teachers. in Catholic schools. In one way, I wish it could be said out loud rather than muttered behind closed doors, so that it could be exposed for the nonsense it is.

But it isn't. And so we carry on with the peculiar situation of governors, many of whom (like me) would be perfectly happy for a gay man or woman to hold a senior position in our schools as long as they were up to the job, biting their tongues, and now looking over their shoulders for the Government to intervene and force the issue. Such are the tangles that Catholicism gets itself in over sexual morality.

Wonderful response to the return of the column two weeks ago via the postbag. I must go away more often. My thanks to Dr Andrew Morris, director of the Centre for Christian Education at Liverpool Hope University, who is keen to stop critics of church schools playing fast and loose with the facts. There is, Dr Morris, writes, "no empirical evidence of which I am aware that Catholic schools generally, or any particular Catholic school., has caused. or is causing societal harm". He draws our attention to back up his argument to two research papers — one already available, and one accepted for publication but not yet in the public domain. "Diversity, Deprivation and the Common Good" was in the Oxford Review of Education, volume 31, number 2, pages 311 and 330. The second, "Contextualising Catholic School Performance in England" is due out in December 2009 in volume 35, number six, of the same journal.

Both papers may be of use to Dr Rosalind Maskell, who writes to make two points. The first, a plea that we all understand the precise way in which the Government supports Catholic schools. One hundred per cent of running costs and 85 per cent of capital costs are the headlines, but the devil is in the detail. And second that we stop saying "faith schools", a word that has of late replaced church schools in this particular debate. "I think it is regrettable," she writes, "that the Church has gone along with the use of 'faith schools' as it puts [Catholic schools] on a par with Muslim schools."

I should, in fairness, add that our Catholic leaders make a point of always saying religious schools or schools of a religious character, rather than faith schools.

Noel Moran addresses me as David Hughes — perhaps I could use it as my nom de plume if I get drummed off the governors' board for supporting gay headteachers — but his point is a good one. "We are repeatedly told that it is because faith schools are so successful that places in them should be made available to all corners. I wonder has it really not occurred to anyone in high places that there may be a causal link between these two conspicuous attributes of faith schools that they are successful and that they are underpinned by a faith-based world view?"

We'd better overlook the use of the "f' word, and it may be worth reminding readers that there are plenty of church schools / schools of a religious character that do badly in the league tables.

Keep the letters coming in: attention Hugh David to [email protected] or by post to the Herald's offices.

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