Police have been called out to LGBT protests outside a Birmingham primary school amid claims that 600 children have been taken out of lessons.
Education secretary Damian Hinds has called for more dialogue between schools and parents after protesters took their children out of Anderton Park Primary, as part of a campaign against the way pupils are taught about LGBT.
Birmingham Council leader Ian Ward has today condemned the protests as "intolerant" and said he wanted to use legal powers to stop the demonstrations taking place.
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Anderton Park Primary has been the focal point for protests for more than five weeks.
Campaigners opposed to the way children learn about LGBT at the school claimed that around 600 pupils had been kept away from lessons today as part of the ongoing protest.
Anderton Park Primary’s Ofsted report last year said it had 749 pupils on its roll.
Mr Hinds said that children and teachers should not have to walk past protests on their way to school, as he stressed the importance of children having an "opportunity to find out about and discuss the reality of our society".
He said: "I want schools and parents to be talking about these things. We have come a long way, actually, and from next year and the year after, we are going to have relationships education as a mandatory subject in primary schools."
Councillor Ward has strongly criticised the ongoing protests.
In a post on social media, he said: “This has to stop. I've asked council officers to see if we could use a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) to counter these demonstrations.
“The people of this city – of all faiths and none – are better than this. There is no place in this city for intolerance and discrimination.
“The children at Anderton Park have a right to attend school without this daily disruption, and the protesters, many of whom don't even have children at the school, should back off.”
Parkfield Community School, in Birmingham, has also seen protests outside over the teaching of its No Outsiders programme.
Anderton Park does not use this programme or have specific lessons about LGBT.
Earlier this month the head of Anderton Park, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, told Tes the school was fulfilling its legal duty to teach pupils about equality.
She told heads at the NAHT headteachers’ union conference, in Telford, how protesters had been gathered outside her school for five weeks. She also said that some of the lead protesters have no children at the school.
At the conference, she put forward a motion, which was carried unanimously, calling on the NAHT’s 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."
When asked about the ongoing protests today, Mr Hinds said: "We live in a society where we have a legal framework that rightly protects different people through society and recognises, celebrates the fact that people are different.
"Of course, it's also true that religion itself is a protected characteristic under the equalities legislation but it is important that in school, children are growing up knowing about modern Britain, knowing about the country in which they are going to become adults.
"There is really good dialogue going on in Birmingham and elsewhere, and I want that to continue."
Labour MP Jess Phillips, who represents Birmingham Yardley, attended the school today and was accused of taking an aggressive stance against the protest after telling those gathered outside the school that she opposed it.
She said: "Our equalities laws protect us alI. I will not be called aggressive for wanting to protect all of the community, Muslims too.
"This is doing deep damage to the Muslim community and these protesters do not represent Birmingham."