Will Boris Johnson support LGBTQ education in Birmingham?
It was back in January of this year that tensions began to rise at a number of Birmingham primary schools. Parents were raising concerns that their children were being taught about the existence of LGBTQ people and about same-sex relationships.
What’s the issue?
No Outsiders, a program devised by Andrew Moffat at Parkfield Community School, uses a range of storybooks which show a number of diverse families, including those with same-sex parents. Under pressure from concerned parents – who mostly identify with the Muslim faith and community – a number of schools stopped teaching the No Outsiders program.
Protests by parents
Much of the focus has been on Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham. Protesters set up a picket line outside the school and requested that parents withdraw their children from the school while lessons that included LGBTQ content continued. There were also clashes between parents and LGBTQ advocates.
Jess Phillips, one of the Members of Parliament that represents Birmingham, visited Anderton Park Primary School where she engaged with protester Shakeel Afsar, who is opposed to the school’s teaching. Afsar, who does not have any children at the school, told Phillips she was being “intolerant” towards the protesters and claimed they had respected the results of earlier mediation in the long-running dispute. But Phillips dismissed his claims, telling him the protests were damaging the reputation of the “peaceful and loving” Muslim community in the area.
Will Boris Johnson take action?
Hazel Pulley, the chief executive of Parkfield Community School, has urged Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister, to step in to end divisions in the community.
“Saying that the teaching or raising awareness of LGBT people is up to head teacher’s autonomy is not acceptable,” Ms Pulley told the BBC.
Pulley told the BBC that the school felt “extreme pressure” from the Department of Education to stop teaching their equality programme in March, to keep the issue out of the media.
“If we don’t get this sorted now this is going to grow and community cohesion will become more of a challenge…” added Pulley, calling for the Prime Minister to address the issue. “It’s just going to get worse.”
An inconsistent approach
From the available documentation and the guidance from the UK’s Department of Education, it’s not particularly clear what LGBTQ content is included within the curriculum for students in UK schools. What does seem apparent is that there’s not a great deal of consistency in the LGBTQ content that they may be accessing.
As the curriculum in England currently stands, LGBTQ-related content falls within a subject called Sex and Relationship Education – often shortened to SRE.
Secondary schools that are overseen by their Local Government Authority are required to provide Sex and Relationship Education to their students. Academy Schools – schools that operate independently of their Local Government Authority – are not required to provide Sex and Relationship Education to their students. According to 2018 data from the National Audit Office, 72% of secondary schools are Academy Schools. Parents have the right to withdraw their child from Sex and Relationship Education.
The current guidance from the Department of Education – published in the year 2000 – contains the following information in relation to Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation:
- It is up to schools to make sure that the needs of all pupils are met in their programmes. Young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationship education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment is clear that teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support. There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation.
- Sexual orientation and what is taught in schools is an area of concern for some parents. Schools that liaise closely with parents when developing their sex and relationship education policy and programme should be able to reassure parents of the content of the programme and the context in which it will be presented.
- Schools need to be able to deal with homophobic bullying. Guidance issued by the Department dealt with the unacceptability of and emotional distress and harm caused by bullying in whatever form – be it racial, as a result of a pupil’s appearance, related to sexual orientation or for any other reason.
This is useful guidance, but for those schools that are either required to or who opt to deliver Sex and Relationship Education to their students, it’s clear that there’s a lot of discretion as to how LGBTQ content is navigated. In a progressive school, with the right teacher, an LGBTQ student could learn a lot about who they are and how they fit into the world, but it seems likely that this would be the exception not the rule.
That’s how things currently stand, but there are changes planned.
An update to the relevant legislation in 2017 requires that the Department of Education make Sex and Relationship Education compulsory for all secondary schools.
The Department of Education is currently consulting on how this compulsory subject – now called Relationships and Sex Education – could be implemented, with the intention that it will be implemented at some point during 2019.
While the precise details of what will be required to be taught as part of Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools does not appear to have been finalised, the Department of Education has confirmed that the draft guidance requires that the subject should be relevant to all pupils, whatever their developing sexuality or identity.
Where that leaves us is that while the compulsory nature of Relationships and Sex Education will mean that more students will receive sex education, and in theory that sex education should be relevant to them, there’s really no certainty as to exactly what young LGBTQ people will be learning and there won’t be any consistency in the information that they’ll be receiving.
We probably need to assume that schools in the UK won’t be able to equip young LGBTQ people with the information that they need about PrEP, or U=U, or anal sex. We also probably need to assume that schools in the UK won’t be able to equip young LGBTQ people with the knowledge about the contribution that LGBTQ people make to the world, about the power of LGBTQ people, and how to embrace your LGBTQ identity.
As a community, we have a responsibility to step up and make sure that all of this information is available to young LGBTQ people – in an appropriate form and context. It takes a village to raise a child.