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Section 28 may have reared its head again - but it would seem official guidance is to blame

In these enlightened times, the revelation that dozens of state schools are using “section 28-like” language in their sex and relationship education policies may come as something of a shock.

The British Humanist Association has dug up 46 schools whose policy statements have echoes of the infamous, but now repealed legislation, which banned teachers from “promoting” homosexuality.

Indeed, a read through some of the offending policies, suggests some schools believe Section 28 is still in force.

It’s a worrying state of affairs, as Section 28 prompted widespread protests when it was introduced in 1988, over fears it would cause teachers to censor themselves when talking to young people about sex. It was revoked by the Labour government in 2003.

The English and Welsh Governments have leapt to announce an official investigation into the offending schools. Waggling an angry finger, the Department of Education has denounced the schools’ policies as “unacceptable”.

But campaigners have suggested that the main offender here may not be the individual schools, but the Government guidance they are asked to base their policies on.

Gay rights group Stonewall told TES that the current Sex and Relationship Education Guidance which dates from 2000 – prior to when Section 28 was repealed – “urgently needs to be updated.”

It says the guidance, which says there should be “no direct promotion of sexual orientation” is unclear and could lead confusion.

Wes Streeting, head of education at Stonewall, said: “It’s important the Michael Gove properly updates the guidance so that it is clear and easy to understand.

“By doing this, all schools will be able to move away from the deeply damaging language of section 28 which had such a deeply scarring effect on so many young people.”

He said it was particularly “disappointing” as Stonewall had alerted civil servants to the issue back in April, but nothing had been done.

“Now that it is out in the open we hope that ministers will instruct officials to act," he said.

He also pointed out that many of the schools named on the British Humanist Association’s research were doing good work tackling issues such as homophobic bullying, despite the wording of their policies.

Swindon Academy, for example, has a policy document which says staff  “have a responsibility to engage in objective discussions on homosexuality but not to promote it.” However, Mr Streeting singled it out for its “leading work” on gay issues.

“Policies need to catch up with some of the excellent work that’s going on,” he said.

Pavan Dhaliwal, head of public affairs at the British Humanist Association, said the guidance had “unnecessary text that is much too close to the original section 28,” which encouraged schools to adopt policies that are “open to interpretation by teachers, pupils and parents in a manner that could be homophobic.”

“The guidance urgently needs to be reviewed and the offending phrases removed,” she said.

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