School protests against LGBT+ lessons could spread unless government intervenes, education experts warn

‘There is a feeling that it just could be anyone next’

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Saturday 30 March 2019 15:24 GMT
Protests over LGBT lessons in Birmingham

Protests outside schools against LGBT+ inclusive lessons could spread across the country unless the authorities intervene, experts have warned.

Demonstrations against classes on same-sex relationships in Birmingham have left primary school pupils distressed and teachers needing counselling.

And, after MPs voted in favour of a compulsory LGBT+ inclusive curriculum this week, education professionals and politicians fear protests will grow unless the government and local councils take action.

Daily protests over reforms to relationships and sex education (RSE) ramped up at Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham, while in Manchester parents have handed out leaflets outside schools opposing the changes, reports say.

Headteachers and teachers in schools are calling for urgent support from the government to teach classes on equality and respect amid fears that the disruption could escalate further.

The call comes after weeks of demonstrations from parents outside Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, where families took issue with its diversity programme No Outsiders.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the teachers’ union NASUWT, has heard from teachers across the country who are worried about a “ripple effect” of protests for teaching about the Equality Act.

“I can’t see anything concrete and coherent from government and employers to address the situation,” Ms Keates told The Independent.

Teachers in schools [with protests] need to be provided with some support and counselling because it is taking a toll on them.”

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, headteacher at Anderton Park School, who has been subjected to chants outside the gates calling for her to resign, said: “People do feel like they are fighting this on their own playground and their own pavement.”

Teachers and parents at her school have called the police repeatedly over the past fortnight after feeling harassed by the daily protests during school pickup.

Staff have been given a phone number for a counselling service in the school in the wake of the protests, which have left children in tears and staff feeling “incredibly intimidated”, the head said.

The demonstrations continued to take place despite a large majority of MPs voting in favour of new regulations to make RSE compulsory in English schools from September 2020.

The curriculum guidance, which has been updated for the first time in nearly two decades, encourages primary schools to teach children about different families, including same-sex parents.

On the protests, Ms Hewitt-Clarkson added: “There is a feeling that it just could be anyone next.”

Following the vote, headteachers from across the country, including Manchester, came together in Birmingham on Friday to discuss a way forward. “It is a call for action,” Ms Hewitt-Clarkson said.

Many schools have been leafleted and had letters submitted by parents – and a local secondary school was recently “bombarded” with questions about LGBT+ lessons during a parents’ evening, she added.

Already five schools in Birmingham – including Parkfield – have suspended the No Outsiders programme until a resolution can be reached with parents.

In a recent parliamentary debate, Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, accused the government of being “too slow to get a grip” on the situation at Parkfield school.

He said: “That delay allowed those with intolerant and extreme views to hijack what was a group of parents simply wanting their voice to be heard and their role to be respected.”

And now there are fears that more schools could be forced to abandon LGBT+ lessons if support is not given.

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Gareth Moore, an openly gay Birmingham city councillor and a school governor, said: “We cannot brush this under the carpet and hope it goes away because that is letting those homophobes win.”

Speaking at an LGBT+ meeting in the city this week, he said parents were beginning to ask questions about the diversity programme at the school where he is a governor following public backlash.

He said: “We are worried that if we push it then we are going to get protesters outside our schools and it will be really disruptive. These protestors are fuelling [things] and that is why it has spread.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has called on protesters to stop demonstrating outside schools. He said: “It is distressing for staff, pupils and families, and it is particularly sad to hear about reports of children being left in tears.

Mr Barton added: “We are sure schools which have been targeted are doing everything possible to provide support and reassurance to staff and pupils.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want children to know that there are many types of relationships – that’s why we are making relationships education compulsory in all primary schools from 2020. This will ensure pupils are taught the building blocks needed for positive and safe relationships of all kinds – starting with family and friends – and how to treat each other with kindness, consideration and respect.

“Following the introduction of the new regulations, there is time for schools to consult parents on how the new subjects will be taught. Schools talk to their parents all the time so we trust head teachers to take the decisions as to what is appropriate for their pupils to be taught.

“No school or teacher should face undue pressure from outside their school communities. The Department will do all it can to support headteachers to do their jobs, free from intimidation.”

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