Schools should only consult parents over relationships and sex education (RSE) and not the wider community, the academy trust at the centre of protests over LGBT teaching has said.
The Department for Education has been urged to issue clear guidance about who and how schools consult parents ahead of the introduction of new statutory RSE.
The issue has been brought into the spotlight by bitter demonstrations by parents against LGBT content in lessons about diversity at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham.
The school paused its No Outsiders programme in March to consult with parents. The process broke down without agreement, and the school is introducing a revised version of the programme in September, despite continued opposition.
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Leaders of the Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust that runs Parkfield have told Tes their situation was made more challenging because the DfE wanted them to include non-parents in the consultation, and parents did not understand that schools’ legal obligations cannot be overridden by consultations.
Chair of trustees Pinky Jain told Tes: “For them, consultation looks like a negotiation, but it really isn’t. That’s been our problem: they have felt that they have the right to say how things should be done even though they don’t.”
And chief executive Hazel Pulley said: “I think having to involve community members in any consultation with parents is now an issue that schools need to be aware of and the DfE needs to give tighter guidance around that.
“We could see no benefit at the time. In fact, we felt it was more detrimental because there were more voices in the room than were necessary, and coming out of the process I feel it has no purpose.”
Ms Jain raised concerns that other schools could suffer similar problems when they have to consult parents about the new statutory relationships and sex education coming into effect in September 2020.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was important to learn from Parkfield’s experience.
He told Tes: “If we want to protect other schools and other communities from going through the same thing then the government needs to be much, much clearer in terms of the framing of the consultation."
He added: “The ‘what’ is a non-negotiable; that’s a statutory requirement. So what the guidance needs to do is to support schools in how you frame that consultation.
“I think it’s an important point that the people you are consulting are the people who are going to be affected by it, and that is the parents with children in that school.
“Unless we are ring-fencing clearly the consultation then we are simply going to make things more and more confusing in an area which is already prone to too much sometimes wilful confusion.”
The DfE declined to comment.