Parkfield: LGBT 'not the place' for school autonomy

Schools are being left vulnerable to protests by DfE's lack of clarity over LGBT teaching, say leaders of the multi-academy trust tht runs Birmingham primary at heart of LGBT row

Dave Speck and Martin George

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Leaders of the multi-academy trust that runs a Birmingham primary school at the centre of the LGBT row have hit out at the Department for Education over its lack of clarity on LGBT teaching.

Schools minister Nick Gibb repeated in the Commons today that LGBT teaching will not be mandatory in primary schools, and that “ultimately it is a matter for the school itself to decide on the curriculum”.

But Pinky Jain, chair of trustees at Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust, which runs Parkfield Community School, told Tes before the debate that the lack of clarity “absolutely” left individual schools more vulnerable to protests. 

Quick read: Hinds slammed for not spelling out LGBT primary guidance

Minister: Gibb condemns school protests

Heads: NAHT calls for clarity on LGBT teaching

She said: “That’s what’s happened to us. We’ve really been left out there to make decisions, and for me the biggest challenge is that headteachers are having to make these decisions and try to compromise and adjust to communities.”

“What we would really want from the DfE is that the new RSE [relationships and sex education] guidance coming out is absolutely black-and-white clarity that ‘this needs to be taught in schools and this doesn’t need to be taught in schools’. I think it’s as simple as that.

“We expect all schools to cover not just relationship education but aspects of LGBT relationships. The children should be aware that these different kinds of families are there. That’s it.”

Protests against LGBT lessons at Parkfield have been described as "hurtful" by staff and made pupils cry while police were investigating possible crimes at a similar protest outside nearby Anderton Park Primary.

And Parkfield featured on the BBC's Panorama last night on which the DfE were accused of being 'too slow' to respond to LGBT protests 'mob'.

Nick Gibb came under fire in the Commons today from MPs claiming that guidance over LGBT needs to be "prescriptive".

Emma Hardy, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, said there were more than 70 schools experiencing “pressure and intimidation” over LGBT teaching.

She added: “Protesters believe that if they make enough noise and turn up the loud hailers and hurl abuse at headteachers that other schools will back down too. There is a desperate need for clear, firm leadership from the department."

Labour's Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington, said: “By using the words ‘for the school to decide’ the government will be exposing dozens, potentially hundreds, of schools this autumn to the same kind of shameful treatment we have seen in recent weeks [in Birmingham]."

The MP for Hull North, Labour's Diana Johnson said: “This [LGBT teaching in primaries] has to be mandatory – you cannot just leave it for the schools.”

Mr Gibb said changing the wording of the guidance would not have prevented the protest in Birmingham schools.

He said: "There is a segment of opinion at either end of this debate that will not be persuaded of the appropriateness of this guidance.

"Some people will never agree to LGBT issues being taught in schools.”

He also said that had the guidance been worded differently it would not have been adopted by hundreds of faith schools in the private sector.

He added: “I believe strongly that in the vast majority of primary schools it will be taught because the secretary of state and I have made it clear that we strongly encourage LGBT issues to be taught in primary schools and not to wait until the child reaches secondary school."

But Hazel Pulley, CEO of Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust which oversees Parkfield, told Tes: “When I have been down to Parliament, twice now, I have said there’s a time and a place for headteacher autonomy but this is not one.

“This greyness that they have created through poor policy has pushed a national debate out into all individual schools when it’s a national agenda, a national debate, it’s not an individual one.”

“Equality is not for individual schools. It’s a law in our land and we need to have it written into policy that it will be taught in primary schools, and the new RSE policy is not fit for purpose.”

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