Monday, November 19, 2012
British primary school teachers could face dismissal for refusing to promote homosexual marriage
Primary school teachers could face the sack for refusing to promote gay marriage once same-sex unions become law, a minister has signalled. Liz Truss, an education minister, refused to rule out the possibility that teachers, even in faith schools, could face disciplinary action for objecting on grounds of conscience.
Miss Truss said simply that it was impossible to know what the impact of the legislation would be at this stage. Her admission came in a letter to a fellow Conservative MP, David Burrowes, last month.
Mr Burrowes, a practising Christian, originally wrote to Maria Miller, the equalities minister, raising concerns about the impact on schools of the Coalition's plans to change the marriage laws.
It followed the publication of a legal opinion by Aidan O'Neill QC, a barrister in the same London chambers as Cherie Blair, commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex unions.
Mr O'Neill, an expert on human rights, was asked to advise on the impact redefining marriage to include same-sex couples could have on schools, churches, hospitals, foster carers and public buildings.
Among his conclusions was that schools could be within their statutory rights to dismiss staff who wilfully fail to use stories or textbooks promoting same-sex weddings. Parents who object to gay marriage being taught to their children would also have no right to withdraw their child from lessons, he argued. And, in theory, the fact that a school was a faith school would make no difference, he added.
One scenario he looked at was what would happen if a primary school asked a Christian teacher to use a book called King & King, a story of a prince who marries a man, and produce a play based on the tale.
Mr O'Neill concluded: "If the teacher refused to obey the otherwise lawful instructions of her employers then this would constitute grounds for her dismissal from employment."
He said that the teacher would be unlikely to be able to use human rights law to challenge such a decision because the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had previously been "notably unwilling" to allow employers to use religion to request changes to their conditions of employment.
Mr Burrowes wrote to ministers seeking reassurances that the situation would not arise.
Replying on behalf of the Government, Miss Truss said that parents currently have a right to withdraw their children from sex education classes and that schools must apply "sensitivity" in deciding what materials to use, taking into account pupils' as well as their "religious and cultural background".
She added that it is ultimately up to heads to determine what teachers should teach and that staff with concerns should try to reach a "mutual understanding on the way forward."
However she underlined that teachers must act in an "un-discriminatory manner".
But she said it was impossible to know how the balance might change further if same-sex marriage becomes law and what the implications might be.
"As you are aware, legislation on equal civil marriage has yet to be announced by the Home Office, following a consultation exercise earlier this year," she wrote.
"I am, therefore, unable to advise on the specifics of any legislation and its future impacts at this time."
It comes despite the Coalition publishing a detailed "impact assessment" on the introduction of same-sex marriage which even included details of how immigration forms might have to be changed to replaces references to husbands or wives with "more neutral" terminology.
Mr Burrowes said the letter confirmed that gay marriage would be taught in schools and offered no reassurances to teachers who object on grounds of conscience.
"The reality is that these questions that are raised which have not been fully answered mean that they have not been rebutted," he said. "The fact that they have not been rebutted when we are so far down the line - the consultation will be coming out within the next weeks and no doubt the DfE has been consulted - now does raise more questions than answers.
"There is a big and serious question that gay marriage will undermine the liberty of conscience, that's a big question that will hang over the legislation."
Millions of pupils are being failed by 'cult of the average' in our schools says British business organization
A `cult of the average' in Britain's state education system is failing millions of bright children and lower achievers, business leaders warn today.
In a withering indictment, the CBI says that after 35 years of reforms and higher spending on schools than by many other nations the country is still facing `substantial' failure rates.
The business lobby group claims some schools have become little more than `exam factories' churning out average grades while failing to stretch both the brightest and lower attainers to the limit of their ability, leading to classroom disruption.
In a blueprint for reform, the CBI proposes radical changes. It says the raising of the school leaving age from 16 to 18 over the next few years means it is time to shift the focus of secondary education from GCSEs to A-levels, or vocational alternatives, at 18.
Instead of public exams, there should be assessments at ages 14 or 16 that check pupils' progress and help them decide what subjects or career paths to take. More pupils should be able to begin a technical education at 14.
The CBI's report, published as it meets for its annual conference in London, warns: `The education system fosters a cult of the average: too often failing to stretch the most able or support those that need most help.'
John Cridland, the CBI's director-general, said: `Today we have a system where a large minority of our young people fall behind and never catch up.
'It's not the fault of any individual concerned. It's not the fault of children, parents or teachers. It's a system failure. It's not acceptable any more than it's not acceptable that the top 10 per cent are not stretched enough.'
Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced plans to scrap GCSEs and replace them with English Baccalaureate Certificates and reform A-levels and the national curriculum.
Online initiative to offer college courses for credit
An initiative announced Thursday by 10 U.S. colleges and universities, including Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Brandeis, promises to bring top-quality online courses to students from all over the country and even the world. But don't call it a MOOC.
"This is actually the polar opposite," said Jeremy Johnson, president of the initiative, called Semester Online. He's also co-founder of 2U, which for about four years has supported online master's degree programs for universities.
Unlike MOOCs (massive open online courses), which are free and open to anyone with an Internet connection, Semester Online classes will charge students to enroll, and class sizes will be limited to 15 to 20 students each. Also unlike MOOCs, students will be able to earn college credit right out of the gate.
Participating institutions see it as another opportunity to explore how technology can best expand and improve education. Earlier this week, the American Council on Education announced it would coordinate efforts to study the academic potential of MOOCs, which are largely unregulated, but have quickly emerged as an important development in higher education.
Semester Online offers a different model. Details are still being worked out, but faculty at participating schools will design and teach the courses, which will be open only to academically qualified students. Schools within the consortium would award credit for the courses, which would include real-time discussions.
Rogan Kersh, provost at Wake Forest University, one of the partner schools, said Semester Online enables universities to have more control as they experiment with the online environment.
"This landscape is both quickly shifting and murky at the same time," he said. "No school has a really clear picture of how they're going to use technology."
Kersh said Wake Forest is not ready to consider MOOCs because of its commitment to small classes and face-to-face interaction. Duke, another participating school, is also participating in MOOCs.
"We're experimenting," Duke Provost Peter Lange said. "We believe both educational models have merit, and we're interested in seeing how they both go."
Other participating schools include Emory, The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester and Washington University in St. Louis.