Birmingham council appoints ex-prosecutor to mediate LGBT education protests

A leading former prosecutor has been appointed by Birmingham council to mediate between two sides in a dispute over LGBT relationships education.

Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for the north west of England and Crown Prosecution Lead on child sexual abuse, offered his help in a Schools Week interview last month, claiming it was “scandalous” that schools were forced to pull lessons about LGBT relationships because of pressure from parents.

Protests by parents and other members of the community began earlier this year in response to concerns about “no outsiders”, a programme of LGBT lessons taught in some Birmingham schools.

The programme, which teaches pupils about LGBT relationships and rights, was designed by Andrew Moffat, the deputy head of Parkfield community school, and had been used by other schools across the city.

The lessons were recently suspended at Parkfield, nearby Anderton Park primary school and at four trusts run by the Leigh Trust last month in response to the opposition from the schools’ majority-Muslim parent body.

Afzal’s appointment comes after Anderton Park head Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson told the National Association of Head Teachers’ annual conference over the weekend that unclear government guidance is exacerbating the protests at her school and others.

The school leader told the conference in Telford her pupils have been forced to pass protesters shouting “out children our choice” and “Hewitt-Clarkson is a liar” for the past five weeks.

She also revealed how she and another staff member have been forced to have police markers put on their homes following threats of violence.

“I can confirm that the city council & parents have asked me to mediate in this matter,” Afzal tweeted on Sunday.

“I don’t want payment I don’t propose to give a running commentary. I would prefer if nobody did so that we can try & make progress for the children at the heart of this.”

The intervention comes after both Damian Hinds, the education secretary, and Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, reaffirmed their backing of schools that teach about LGBT relationships during appearances at the conference.

Spielman told the NAHT conference that it was “unacceptable” for parents to intimidate schools and teachers who are fulfilling their legal duty to teach about equality, and Hinds insisted that “no child should have to walk past a protest to go to school, and no teacher should have to walk past a protest to go to school”.

“It is right that there is dialogue, we want schools to consult with parents,” said Hinds.

“Ultimately there is no veto over what is taught in schools. That is head teachers’ domain. I call on people to not be protesting – talking by all means, but not protesting because it is not good for those children, and it is not good for your fellow professionals.”