Stormont Education Committee Chair proposes bill to scrap faith-based discrimination against teachers

19 April, 2021

An exemption to equality law allowing schools in Northern Ireland to employ teachers on religious grounds may be challenged in Stormont, after the Chair of Stormont’s Education Committee launched a consultation into a proposed private members’ bill to ‘tackle’ the issue.

The bill is being proposed by Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle. Northern Ireland Humanists – which campaigns for equal treatment of teachers regardless of religious background – welcomed the move and said the ‘grossly unfair’ exemption should be scrapped as soon as possible.

Last month, members of the Education Committee from across the political spectrum blasted the discrimination teachers face in Northern Ireland’s schools as ‘perverse’, ‘archaic’, and unfair, with Mr Lyttle saying he was ‘profoundly uncomfortable’ with the appointment of teachers by faith. The comments followed an evidence session in which Dr Matt Milliken of Ulster University’s UNESCO Education Centre told MLAs that only two per cent of teachers in Catholic primary schools are from a Protestant background, and in primary schools serving the Protestant community (known as controlled schools), only seven per cent of teachers are from a Catholic background.

Just last week, teachers’ union NASUWT voted ‘overwhelmingly’ to lobby the Northern Ireland Assembly to remove the exemption. This followed in the footsteps of two other unions, the NUT and the ATL – which have since merged to form the NEU – which previously adopted UK policies against faith-based teacher discrimination. Such discrimination is also permitted in faith schools in the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘Religious discrimination against teachers is not only grossly unfair to individuals but it actively works against integration in Northern Ireland’s schools.

‘On this basis, we firmly support scrapping the teacher exemption and encourage all our members and supporters to respond positively to the survey so we can get rid of this outdated law as soon as possible.’


For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at or phone 02890 029946.

Respond to the consultation

Read our most recent article on teachers’ union NASUWT voting to end Northern Ireland teacher discrimination.

Read our article on Stormont Education Committee blasting ‘perverse’, ‘archaic’ and ‘unfair’ exemptions to equality law for teachers.

Read our article on how teacher training reinforces educational division in Northern Ireland.

Read more about our work on schools and education.

Read more about our work on faith schools.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.