Teacher angry over High Holy-Day leave

By Leon Symons, October 3, 2008

A teacher has criticised a council's policy over absence for religious festivals after she was granted - and then refused - paid leave for the High Holy-Days .

History and religious-studies teacher Lucy Nuttgens, 48, applied in July for time off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and was told by Aireville School in Skipton, North Yorkshire, that she could have the days off and would be paid for them.

Ms Nuttgens is a member of the small Bradford Reform Synagogue and was helping to run services on the New Year.

Last Friday, she was told by the school that the decision had been reversed because of a change of policy by North Yorkshire County Council. If she wanted the days off, she would have to take them as holiday, as time off in lieu or as unpaid leave.

"My holidays are school holidays and I don't have time off in lieu, so I would have lost two days' pay," said Ms Nuttgens, a mother of four. "Luckily, my head of faculty at the school took up the matter with the head who agreed, that because I had requested the time off in July, I would be paid. But now I am very worried that this situation will arise again because it is council policy.

"I am very angry about this because it goes against everything that I thought had been sorted out long ago in this area. It is a massive step backwards in terms of religious freedom that the council is able to do this. We are supposed to be living in a society where we have religious freedom and this does not seem to be adding to it."

North Yorkshire Council said in a statement: "In common with most local authorities, North Yorkshire County Council grants employees leave of absence to observe religious festivals. However - again, in common with most other authorities - the council does not offer paid leave for such absence. Staff are expected to take annual leave, or leave based on flexi-time.

"Aireville School in Skipton has hitherto operated a discretionary policy under which staff could take paid leave. However, the school has now amended its policy, to bring it into line with the rest of the county."

Ms Nuttgens has written to Reform head Rabbi Tony Bayfield, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and David Curry, Tory MP for Skipton and Ripon.

Board of Deputies' chief executive Jon Benjamin said: "Broadly speaking, the law does support people taking time off for religious reasons because, if they were not allowed to, it would be direct discrimination.

"Having said that, there are caveats about the ability of employers to be flexible and allow time off depending on how dispensable the employee might be. Where teachers are concerned, the situation is slightly different as a classroom of children needs someone to look after them."

He said the Board had begun talks with the National Union of Teachers and National Association Of Schoolmasters and Union Of Women Teachers because "we want to try to take this forward with them so local authorities will adopt a more uniform approach".


Last updated: 5:38pm, October 2 2008