Damian Hinds has been accused of leaving headteachers "hung out to dry" after repeatedly avoiding saying that primary schools must cover same-sex relationships.
New statutory guidance from the DfE, published last week, says that by the end of primary school pupils “should know that others’ families, either in school or in the wider world, sometimes look different from their family”, and points out that families "can include... LGBT parents".
It also says that by the same point pupils "should know that marriage represents a formal and legally recognised commitment of two people to each other which is intended to be lifelong”, and explicitly notes that in England and Wales marriage is “available to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples”.
Quick read: Hinds 'strongly encourages' LGBT primary lessons
The guidance was issued by the DfE, but the education secretary has personally avoided repeating the wording of the document, instead saying he would “strongly encourage” primary schools to discuss families with same-sex parents.
When Tes asked Mr Hinds why he does not himself say primary schools are required to teach about same-sex relationships, he repeated that he was “strongly encouraging primary schools to have talked about the fact that there are many different types of strong and loving families”.
He cited as examples same-sex parents, as well as children brought to school by grandparents, foster carers or single parents.
When challenged that he had again failed to reflect the wording of the guidance by not spelling out it was a requirement, he said: “That is what they are subject to, so that much is clear.
"What I have said is something slightly more expansive than about the words as they are set out there, that there are many different types of strong and loving families and we should celebrate that diversity.”
Pressed again about the guidance, he said: “I don’t deny anything that is written on the page in front of you.”
Asked again why he uses phrases such as “strongly encourage” or “it will be helpful” rather than the wording of the guidance, he added: “I do say what [the guidance] says because those words are written in the name of the government so that is the guidance that is out there.
“Guidance is clear that you cover LGBT, you will have discussed LGBT matters while you are at school.
“Exactly when it’s right for the particular class of kids, the particular cohort, might be different, so if you do have another child in your class who has two mums or two dads, then actually maybe you do want to talk about this at a very early age, but it other cases it might not be so.”
Claire Evans, deputy head of Anderton Park Primary in Birmingham, which has been subject to weeks of demonstrations against LGBT content in lessons, told Tes: “He ‘strongly recommends’, but ‘strongly recommends’ is not ‘must cover’ or ‘much teach’.”
She added: “It leaves us hung out to dry like it has done for the last 12 weeks because there is not clear guidance.
“If headteachers do then choose to teach it, to discuss it and to cover it, they are opening themselves up then to questions from parents as to why do you think it’s appropriate because Damian Hinds hasn’t said that everybody must do this that and the other, he just says he leaves it up to headteachers.”