Teachers to go on strike at Catholic state school where gay author was banned

Teachers at a Catholic state school in south London have voted to go on strike to protest against the banning of a visit by a gay author.

Members of the National Education Union at John Fisher School in Croydon voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action after Southwark Archdiocese canceled a visit by Simon James Green, whose books for young adults feature gay characters.

The ballot closed today, with 90 per cent of NEU members supporting strike action on a 76 per cent turnout, comfortably clearing the thresholds legally required for a strike.

The union said it would “not stand by and watch those who identify as LGBT+ be singled out for adverse and degrading treatment”.

Mr Green had been invited to visit John Fisher in March for a talk and book signing to commemorate World Book Day.

However, a few days beforehand, the Education Commission of Southwark Archdiocese published a statement saying it had recommended the school’s leadership cancel the visit, because it fell “outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school”.

The school’s leadership team and governing body voted to go ahead with the visit, prompting an intervention by the diocese, which canceled the event and removed a number of governors.

In a letter to the sacked governors, the Education Commission of Southwark Archdiocese had said the visit was “potentially offensive to parents, past pupils and wider members of the Catholic community” and had “brought the school, the Church and all its historic legacy into disrepute”.

An “interim executive board” was imposed on the school, although the diocese was soon forced to disband it after being informed by the Government that it was unlawful.

The diocese’s intervention has caused turmoil at the school, with the local MP and a number of London councils raising concerns, parents launching a campaign to reinstate the governors and Ofsted undertaking a snap inspection.

The two unions represented at John Fisher – the NEU and the NASUWT – have passed motions condemning the diocese’s actions, and last month i revealed that NEU members at the school were being balloted on taking strike action in response.

Pauline Buchanan, the London regional secretary for the NEU, said: “NEU members at John Fisher have overwhelmingly to take strike action against a discriminatory working environment following the cancellation of the visit of author Simon James Green on World Book Day 3 March.

“School governors who invited the author were sacked. NEU had written to the Southwark Archdiocese and asked that both the visit and the board were re-instated. NEU received a response which said the Archdiocese were not prepared to comment.

“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.

“NEU intended to hold a public meeting before our first day of strike action to highlight this shocking behaviour.”

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

At the NEU’s annual conference in Bournemouth on Tuesday, delegates said the cancellation of Mr Green’s visit was a return to “Section 28 by stealth” – the infamous law (introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government) which banned councils from “promotion of homosexuality”. The law was in effect from 1988 to 2000 in Scotland, and until 2003 in England and Wales.

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

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