Teachers have paused strike action at a Catholic state school which banned a visit by a gay author after governors agreed to invite another author who writes about LGBT relationships to speak to pupils.
While the dispute at John Fisher School in Purley, south London, has not been resolved, there is “relief” on both sides that negotiations have made progress, amid concerns the situation at the school is becoming “toxic”.
In March, Southwark Archdiocese intervened to cancel a talk by Simon James Green, whose books for young adults feature gay characters.
The school’s leadership team and governing body had wanted the event to go ahead, which resulted in the diocese sacking a number of John Fisher’s “foundation governors” – the governors appointed by the Church – and imposing an interim executive board.
The board was disbanded after just a few days after the diocese was warned it was unlawful, but four members who had sat on it have since been installed on John Fisher’s governing body.
Last month, members of the National Education Union started a strike at the school to protest against the cancellation of the visit and the governance changes.
To date, teachers have walked out on six days. A further six days have been scheduled by the NEU, but the union has now suspended the action to allow mediation by the Acas arbitration service to continue.
While the NEU had called for Mr Green’s visit to be reinstated, the new governing body has refused to invite him back.
However, i can reveal the two sides have reached an agreement which would see another author who writes about LGBT relationships invited to the school in the next academic year.
Southwark Archdiocese have insisted the cancellation of Mr Green’s visit was unrelated to his sexuality, even though the school’s chaplain, Father James Clark, sent an email to parents protesting the event, which he said was “about promoting the literature of a lifestyle choice that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ”. At the time, the diocese said the visit was cancelled because it fell “outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school”.
The diocese later argued it cancelled the event because one of Mr Green’s books contains a “highly sexualised re-writing of the Lord’s Prayer”. Mr Green has accused the diocese of taking the scene in question – in which the main character is homophobically bullied by classmates – out of context.
While an agreement has been reached on an author visit, the overall dispute has not been resolved, with progress still needed on the governance issue. i understands a possible compromise could involve at least some of the sacked governors being allowed to finish their terms of office alongside the newly appointed governors.
One insider told i that there was “relief” that the talks had made progress and appetite for a deal, amid fears that the situation at the school is becoming “toxic” and “poisonous”, and that the dispute could “tear the school apart”.
Earlier this month, a small group of parents undertook a counter protest against the picketing teachers.
The striking teachers have accused Southwark Archdiocese of exacerbating the tensions, with the diocese using its Twitter account earlier this month to retweet an article which referred to children’s books being used “as a vehicle to promote deviant sexual practices”.
The atmosphere has led some teachers to question their future at the school, i has been told.
An NEU spokesperson said: “We are pleased to have come to agreement with the school around the visit of an author whose writing includes LGBT+ relationships.
“The event will take place in the upcoming academic year within a series of events about the celebration of diversity within literature and with the educational outcome of fostering a love of reading. A range of other measures were agreed including training and a re-affirming of commitment to diversity.
“Talks continue on the issue of the removal of members of the original governing body. While these talks are ongoing strike action by NEU members has been suspended.”
Southwark Archdiocese was contacted for comment.