Head at centre of LGBT row says DfE is making protests worse

Headteacher of Birmingham school facing LGBT protests calls for more support for schools fulfilling equality duty

John Roberts

A head has said the DfE is making LGBT protests worse

A headteacher whose school has faced major protests over LGBT lessons has said Department for Education advice for parents is making the situation worse.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, the head of Anderton Park Primary in Birmingham, raised concerns about information of the DfE website for singling out concerns about LGBT.

A "frequently asked questions" section about its plans for compulsory relationships education says there is "no specific requirement" for primary schools to teach LGBT content.

Ms Hewitt-Clarkson told heads at the NAHT annual conference that this is at odds with the government's relationship education policy and was helping to fuel protests.

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Spielman: Ofsted chief backs LGBT lessons

Background: Protests at school

The DfE policy states that primary pupils should know that: "Stable, caring relationships, which may be of different types, are at the heart of happy families."

The primary section also says: "Teaching about families requires sensitive and well-judged teaching based on knowledge of pupils and their circumstances.

LGBT row: 'We are just teaching children about equality'

"Families of many forms provide a nurturing environment for children. (Families can include, for example, single-parent families, LGBT parents, families headed by grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents/carers amongst other structures.)"

Speaking afterwards, Ms Hewitt-Clarkson told Tes: “Parents are using the DfE’s frequently asked questions to criticise us. It is making the situation worse. We are not promoting LGBT and we do not have a specific programme. We are just teaching children about equality.”

The head put forward a motion which calls on the NAHT national executive to work with others to: “Develop and lobby for a more robust and legally enforceable policy and support for schools as they carry out their public sector equality duty."

It was carried unanimously.

She said: “Protesters have been outside my school for five weeks. The lead protesters have no children at my school.” 

She highlighted examples of offensive banners and told heads that some protesters chanted “Hewitt-Clarkson is a liar”. 

“How have we got to this beyond-awful state of affairs?” she said.

The head highlighted the impact of the DfE's frequently asked questions

“The new draft relationship education policy states that children in primary school should know that marriage both to same-sex and to opposite-sex couples is a lifelong commitment. It also says that families can be single parents, LGBT parents, grandparents and so on. That is excellent and clear.

“But the DfE’s frequently asked questions asks 'does this policy promote LGBT?' The answer to that answer should have been no. It doesn’t promote heterosexual relationships either, it promotes love and care.

"But the answer to that question said there is no specific requirement to promote LGBT in primary schools .

"It says 'They can cover it if they think it's age-appropriate'. How is LGBT allowed by the DfE to be singled out for special consideration about whether it is appropriate or not? 

"Frequently asked questions are not policy, but this is why I have these protests.”  

Earlier Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector told heads at the NAHT conference that it would be a "huge step backwards" if schools became reluctant to teach about diversity in Britain.

Her comments come in relation to a number of protests across the country sparked by parents objecting to their children learning about LGBT relationships.

'We're not talking about sex education'

Ms Spielman said: "What we're talking about here is not sex education. It's just a simple understanding that just as families worship differently, they also love and marry differently."

The chief inspector added: "But, as a result, we're seeing protests at school gates and children being withdrawn from schools."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The education secretary last month wrote to the National Association of Head Teachers to set out his thinking on equality and the forthcoming introduction of relationships education in primary schools and has been clear that if parents have concerns, staging a protest is not the way to resolve them.

"Protests can frighten children, intimidate staff and, in the worst cases, be hijacked by individuals with a vested interest and no links to the schools.

“Our guidance is clear that schools will have flexibility to deliver the content of relationships, sex and health education in a way that is age-appropriate and sensitive to the needs of their pupils. It is also unequivocal that these subjects do not promote anything, they educate.

"There is a clear expectation in the RSE guidance that LGBT content will be taught during a child’s school years – this will be expected at secondary and encouraged and enabled at primary. Ultimately, it is for the school to decide what is taught in the curriculum and we trust them to make reasonable decisions based on the feedback they receive from parents.”

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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