Ageism and the Professional Code for Teachers.

The General Teaching Council have been undertaking a consultation exercise over its plans for a Professional Code for Teachers, with a commitment to introduce such a Code of Practice by the 1st October 2001.  The GTC claim that the code will define the beliefs, values and attitudes that underlie teacher professionalism. In addition, the Code is intended to provide the basis for a greater public recognition of teachers and the vital importance of their work.

By comparison the Christian Institute, while indicating some support for the idea of a Code of Practice, are campaigning for Clause 5 of the Code to be scrapped on the grounds that teachers should not have to promote gay rights and that the GTCís proposals ëgo well beyond equality of opportunityí and are ëdraconian and oppressiveí.[i] This article will examine Clause 5 and seek to determine if the GTC proposals are as problematic as the Christian Institute claim. 

The Code of Practice and its influence.

The GTC Code of Practice is designed to form the backcloth to all the Council's advisory and regulatory work and as such it is intended to influence policy and it must be likely that schools and colleges will take the Code into account when they determine their own equal opportunity and professional standards statements. 

Likewise it is possible that, over time, the Code will be recognised as laying standards for the profession and, to an extent, it could be applied and used in disciplinary situations and even in employment tribunals. However this should not be considered, as the Christian Institute claim, to be draconian or oppressive. Indeed, this simply reflects a natural evolution that may follow from a Code of Conduct that, over time, earns recognition and respect throughout the profession. 

Such a Code could never become legally binding,[ii] since (just like the ACAS Code of Practice in relation to dismissals) employment case law indicates that such codes are persuasive and simply ëtaken into accountí when determining disciplinary issues. Accordingly, the Code of Practice should not be considered as a threat to the freedom of professional teachers, but more of a standard that we should all aim to adhere to.

Clause 5.

Having said that, it is not the existence or use of the Code of Practice that upsets the Christian Institute. Indeed the Christian Institute, in their booklet ëcut the clause ñ teachers should not have to promote gay rightsí, make clear that it is Clause 5 that they object to ñ claiming that this goes well beyond equality of opportunity. In order to consider such this claim, I will examine Clause 5 and then relate this to existing and proposed discrimination laws. 

Clause 5 statesÖ ìTeachers recognise diversity and work to ensure the rights of individuals to develop. They fully respect differences of gender, marital status, religion, colour, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability. Teacher professionalism involves challenging prejudice and stereotypes to ensure equality of opportunity.î

This statement, far from requiring teachers to promote gay rights, simply requires teachers to recognise diversity and respect differences - while challenging prejudice and stereotypes. Indeed, it seeks to do little more than what is already enshrined within law. For example, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender or marital status, with the Race Relations Act 1976 dealing with race, colour and ethnicity. Likewise, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 tackles discrimination on the grounds of disability. 

Logically, one can expect the GTC to introduce proposals that comply with existing domestic laws, but have they gone beyond equal opportunity requirements by including elements in relation to religion and sexual orientation? On face value, the simple answer is ëyesí. However, before we can jump to such assumptions, it is necessary to go beyond the shores of the UK and examine the developing requirements under European Union discrimination laws.[iii] Indeed in doing so, it is important to reflect that we no longer live in an island that is insulated from European Union treaties and laws, we are now bound to comply with them. 

European Union requirements.

If we examine EU legislation, we find that the UK government have signed up to the EU ëFundamental Charter on Human Rightsí, and welcomed the complying ëEqual Treatment in Employment Directiveí,[iv] both of which seek to prohibit discrimination based on grounds such as sex, religion, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, disability, age or sexual orientation.

That being so, it can easily be recognised that the General Teaching Council can be praised for including, within Clause 5, areas that are the subject of an EU Directive that needs to be introduced into domestic law by the 2nd December 2003. However, if it is to be praised for such foresight, it can also be criticised for its failure to include respect for differences of ëageí.

Indeed, if we assume that in establishing its Code of Practice the GTC intended to comply with the EU Equal Treatment in Employment Directive, what possible justification can there be for including religion and sexual orientation, while excluding age?  By way of example, in Citizenship, sixth form teachers should be educating students about forthcoming laws and making them aware that ageism, just like homophobia, sexism and racism, can be both morally and legally wrong. This does not mean, and neither should it be interpreted to mean, that teachers would be expected to promote age, gay, or any other rights. Indeed the role of a teacher is to make students aware of the facts and encourage them to analyse in relation to the syllabus and issues involved.  

In conclusion. 

While teachers should welcome the GTC Code of Practice, they should not be too concerned by the Christian Institute questionable claims that the Code goes well beyond existing equality of opportunity requirements. Indeed, as this article demonstrates, there is an exceedingly strong argument that the GTC proposals do not go far enough down the road of tackling discrimination and that they should also include ëage discriminationí. 

To sum up in a few words, the role of teachers is to encourage students to respect differences of sex, marital status, religion, race, colour, ethnicity, disability, age and sexual orientation. The Code of Practice seeks to promote such professionalism amongst teachers ñ this does not mean encouraging teachers to promote gay or any other rights within the classroom. Indeed, as the Code recognises, the role of a teacher is not to promote issues - but to inform and educate students.    

Dr Peter Jepson,

Law and Citizenship Tutor.

Strodeís College, Egham.

21st July 2001.

 


Footnotes...

[i] See Page 9 of the ëcut the clauseí booklet, under the heading ëThe alarming implications for religious libertiesí.
[ii] In the sense that any failure to comply with the Code provides automatic grounds for dismissal.
[iii] See ëUpcoming changes to discrimination lawí by Dr Peter Jepson - published in Employee Relations Briefing, September 2000.
[iv] EU Directives are directly applicable to organs of the state, which logically means they are binding upon most, if not all, schools and colleges.