Teachers go on strike after Catholic school cancels gay author on World Book Day

Teachers at a visiting Catholic school in South London have voted to go on strike after a gay author was banned from on World Book Day.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) at John Fisher School in Croydon have voted “overwhelmingly” to take strike action against “a discriminatory working environment” after the Archdiocese of Southwark canceled Simon James Green’s visit.

Mr Green, a screenwriter and award-winning author of 11 children’s books, writes novels that feature gay characters, which the school’s chaplain said promoted a “lifestyle choice” contrary to its teaching and had “no place” in a Catholic school.

The union’s ballot closed on Wednesday with 90 per cent of the NEU members at the state school supporting strike action on a 76 per cent turnout.

Ban was ‘draconian decision’

Pauline Buchanan, the London Regional Secretary of the NEU, said: “The result of the ballot today shows that our members will not stand by and watch those who identify as LGBT+ be singled out for adverse and degrading treatment.”

“We will continue to challenge this unfair and draconian decision and fight for respect for all,” she added.

Mr Green posted a statement on his Twitter account following the union’s ballot, thanking the members who voted to strike.

He said: “We have to make a stand against LGBTQ+ book censorship. And these school staff have. I applaud and thank every one of them.

“But it’s not about me – it’s about the students, LGBT or not, who deserve (and need) to see their realities, and those of their peers, reflected in books.”

While teachers and governors had approved the visit of the leading writer of LGBT teenage fiction, the event was not sanctioned by Catholic officials, who oversee trusteeship of the school.

The school governors who invited the author were sacked following the controversy and the union said that when they asked the Archdiocese to reinstate the author’s visit and the board, they received a response saying they were not prepared to comment.

The “interim executive board” that was then established by the diocese and imposed on the school was quickly forced to disband after they were informed that it was unlawful.

The controversial intervention by the diocese caused widespread turmoil within the school, with parents launching a campaign to reinstate the governors and the education watchdog Ofsted conducting a snap inspection.

The union said they intend to hold a public meeting before the first day of strike action to highlight the “shocking behaviour” of the Archdiocese.

‘Dinosaur attitude’

The i reported that the teachers strike is due to take place over a three-week period starting on April 28, with teachers set to walk out for a total of six days.

At the NEU’s annual conference in Bournemouth on Tuesday, delegates said the cancellation of the author’s visit was a return to “Section 28 by stealth” – the law which banned councils from “promotion of homosexuality”.

It was in effect from 1988 to 2000 in Scotland, and until 2003 in England and Wales.

When Mr Green’s invitation was rescinded, the Archdiocese said: “From time to time materials and events emerge for consideration that fall outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school.”

“In such circumstances, we have no alternative but to affirm our unequivocal and well-known theological and moral precepts and to act in accordance with them,” Simon Hughes, the education director, added at the time.

Parents at John Fisher School had expressed their shock and anger at what they called the “dinosaur attitude” of the Archdiocese and secular campaigners suggested that the school’s public funding should be pulled.

John Fisher School and the Southwark Archdiocese were both contacted for comment.

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