Paragraph 4 (education appointments, etc. : religious belief) of Schedule 22 to the Equality Act 2010 does not provide English schools designated with a religious character with an exemption from Schedule 9 to that Act. Rather, it provides some exceptions from the provisions of the Act as a whole in certain situations – this is to prevent such schools from discriminating contrary to the Act on the basis of religion or belief.
Schedule 9 (work: exceptions) provides exceptions from provisions in Part 5 of the Act which covers employment. Therefore, Schedule 9 is focussed on work and employment in the widest sense rather than in the sphere of education. It does provide one exception in paragraph 3 of that Schedule which does have an impact on schools namely that it enables employers (including schools) to make religion or belief an occupational requirement for work in certain circumstances without breaching provisions of Part 5 of the Act.
Paragraph 4 of Schedule 22 set out a few exceptions from the provisions of the Equality Act for foundation schools, voluntary schools, academies and free schools, and independent schools that are not academies, where they have been designated as having a religious character.
The exceptions cover a range of situations relating to the appointment, promotion and remuneration of teachers by cross-referring to various sections in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 which cover these situations in the context of schools designated as having a religious character. Paragraph 4 of Schedule 22 states that such schools do not contravene the provisions of the Equality Act simply because they are acting in line with the relevant sections of the 1998 Act.
If a school with a religious character is acting in compliance with the relevant provisions of the 1998 Act this gives it protection from claims that it is discriminating on grounds of religion or belief and is in breach of the Equality Act. Such schools may take faith into account when employing teachers, for example. Our expectation is that schools with a religious character will balance the need to maintain the religious character of their school with that of securing the best staff for their school. Alongside this, school leaders are very aware, for example, that they must comply with employment law and their responsibilities under the Equality Act that are not covered by the exceptions when making appointments.