Intimidation of teachers during protests against LGBT+ classes is ‘very concerning’, education secretary says

Parents do not have right to veto relationships education, Damian Hinds says

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 09 April 2019 17:18 BST
Protests over LGBT lessons in Birmingham

Reports of teachers feeling intimidated by parents protesting against LGBT+ classes is “very concerning”, the education secretary has said.

Damian Hinds has spoken out about the demonstrations against schools in Birmingham, which teach about the existence of same-sex parents, after months of protests.

The minister’s comments came after the assistant head of a school at the centre of a row over LGBT+ lessons said he had received a death threat from protesters.

In a letter to school leaders’ union NAHT, Mr Hinds said it was “regrettable that myths and misinformation” about relationships education was “undermining the hard work of headteachers”.

He added that consulting with families “does not provide a parental veto on curriculum content.”

Andrew Moffat, who works at Parkfield Community School, was told he wouldn’t “last long” amid opposition to the No Outsiders programme – which uses stories to teach about same-sex couples.

At least five schools in Birmingham, including Parkfield, have suspended LGBT+ inclusive lessons until a resolution can be found with families following weekly protests from parents at the school gates.

In recent weeks, education experts warned that protests could spread across the country if the government does not take action and provide support to school leaders teaching classes on equality.

Some feared that more schools could be forced to abandon LGBT+ lessons.

But in a letter to Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, Mr Hinds said a consultation with parents over relationships education does not provide a “veto” on curriculum content.

However, the minister added that parents have a “legitimate right” to be consulted on what their children are being taught about in relationships education.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, head at Anderton Park School, who has been subjected to chants outside the gates calling for her to resign, called on Mr Hinds to intervene when daily protests began weeks ago.

She told The Independent last month that teachers and parents had called the police repeatedly after feeling harassed by the protests during school pickup, which have left some children in tears.

The protest organisers are due to hand in a petition to the school calling on Ms Hewitt-Clarkson to resign. If action is not taken, they are threatening to withdraw hundreds of pupils from the school.

It comes after the government announced it would make relationships education compulsory in primary schools and relationships and sex education (RSE) mandatory in secondary schools in 2020.

Secondary schools will be required to include LGBT+ content and primary schools are being encouraged to teach about LGBT+ relationships.

Mr Hinds added that the Department for Education will work with the NAHT to establish the "right practical support for school leaders facing difficult circumstances as a result of any local controversy" on RSE.

Mr Whiteman, the general secretary of NAHT, said: “This letter confirms that whilst school leaders are required to involve parents and the wider community in the planned content of the curriculum, consultation does not provide parents or others with a veto.

"Schools that take this approach will receive the full support of the government.

“The Secretary of State also makes clear that ‘dedicated public servants faithfully discharging their duty have an absolute right to feel confident and safe.’ This is as it should be.

"Petitions calling for staff to be sacked or asked to resign are clearly unacceptable.”

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He added: “There is clearly more to be done in Birmingham and in other areas where protests and disagreements have happened.”

But Mr Whiteman said he was encouraged that the education secretary had taken a “direct interest in bringing the protests to an end” and restoring a calm teaching environment as quickly as possible.

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