THE DEBATE on Section 28 of the Local Government Act this week descended into an old-fashioned ideological dogfight, eating up reams of newsprint.
The furore surrounds ministers' bid to repeal the ban on councils from promoting homosexuality, or its acceptability as a "pretended family relationship".
The ever-controversial chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead entered the fray when he claimed, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, that he had seen no evidence that Section 28 had hampered teachers' ability to deal with homophobic bullying.
His views were quoted as strengthening the claims of a coalition - including the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, various religious leaders, Conservative MPs and even a few Labour backbenchers - which wants to retain the section.
Gill Frances of the National Children's Bureau disagreed. She pointed to 1997 research by London University's Institute of Education - commissioned by Aids charity the Terence Higgins Trust - showing that, in a survey of 307 schools, 56 per cent o teachers reported difficulty in meeting the needs of gay pupils because of concerns about Section 28. Eighty-two per cent of schools reported incidents of homophobic bullying.
The British Medical Association, in another 1997 report, said: "The section has proved positively harmful in ensuring that issues of sexuality are responsibly addressed within schools."
However, Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, said that if the section were repealed, parents would need reassuring that inappropriate literature would not enter the classroom.
The National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, and the Local Government Association, have backed reform but condemned Education Secretary David Blunkett's pledge to include an emphasis on traditional family life in new sex-education guidelines.
The new legislation is expected to be rejected by the Conservative-dominated House of Lords after it comes up for debate there on Monday.