LGBT+ lessons: Government’s support for schools promoting equality has been ‘half-hearted’ and left teachers exposed, leading figures say

Exclusive: Department for Education’s guidance ‘weakly ambiguous at best’, ministers told

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Sunday 14 July 2019 21:54 BST
Jess Phillips confronts leader of protest against school's same-sex education policy

The government’s support for schools attacked for promoting LGBT+ inclusion has been “half-hearted” and has left many teachers “exposed”, public figures and religious activists say.

Author Philip Pullman and Tory MP Crispin Blunt are among 77 signatories of a letter to the education secretary following months of protests outside schools against LGBT+ lessons.

The open letter says government guidance, which says primary schools are encouraged to cover LGBT+ content if they consider it “age appropriate”, has been “weakly ambiguous”.

It comes as families resumed demonstrations outside a primary school at the centre of a row over teaching children about the existence of same-sex parents.

Parents protested at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham this week after the school announced it would bring back a suspended equality programme after months of consultation.

Protestors argue that children are too young to learn about same-sex relationships through reading story books – which is part of the school’s No Outsiders diversity programme.

The row at Parkfield sparked weekly protests at the nearby Anderton Park primary school and led to a political debate over what age was appropriate to teach children about LGBT+ couples.

The letter, shared exclusively with The Independent, calls on the Department for Education (DfE) to step up the support given to schools promoting the acceptance of LGBT+ people.

The government is making Relationships Education compulsory in primary schools and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) compulsory in secondary schools from September 2020.

The DfE guidance on the changes, which has been updated for the first time in two decades, requires secondary schools to include content on LGBT+ relationships in their teaching.

But primary schools are only encouraged to cover LGBT+ content if they consider it “age appropriate to do so” and there is no specific requirement.

The joint letter sent to Mr Hinds, signed by nearly 80 educationists, campaigners and religious figures, argues that the DfE’s phase ‘“age appropriate” is open to wide interpretation.

It warns: “Statements such as these, combined with half-hearted support for schools that are being attacked, has left many teachers exposed.”

In April, Andrew Moffatt, assistant headteacher of Parkfield and the pioneer of the No Outsiders programme, said he received a death threat from protesters.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, head at Anderton Park, has also been subjected to chants outside the gates calling for her to resign and she said teachers had called the police repeatedly after feeling harassed by the protests during school pickup.

The letter, which has been signed by broadcaster Iain Dale and Luke Tryll, the director of the New Schools Network, adds: “The requirement for schools to promote inclusivity between people of different characteristics is a vital part of our society’s equality and human rights framework, and helps us to forge a better society in which all may fully contribute.

“An attack on this framework is ultimately an attack on us all.”

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It comes as more than 50 MPs sent a separate letter to Mr Hinds his week urging the government to give stronger support to schools teaching about same-sex couples.

In response, Mr Hinds reiterated again that protests outside schools were “unacceptable”, adding that children and teachers should not have to walk past them.

He added: “Our new guidance is clear that children should leave school having learnt about LGBT+ relationships, and I strongly encourage primary schools to teach about different types of family, including families with same-sex parents.”

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