Protests against LGBT relationships education at schools across England are being exacerbated by unclear government guidance, a headteacher at the centre of the row has warned.
The annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers heard today how perceived conflicts between different Department for Education documents are contributing to clashes between schools and parents in areas like Birmingham and Manchester.
Protesters have been outside my school for the last five weeks
Delegates unanimously passed a motion calling for the development of a “more robust and legally-enforceable policy and support for schools as they carry out their public sector equality duty”.
Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, the head of Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham, told the conference her pupils have been forced to pass protesters shouting “out children our choice” and “Hewitt-Clarkson is a liar” for the past five weeks.
It 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.
Speaking earlier today, Hewitt-Clarkson said the protests “discriminate, they promote prejudice, they harm relationships, they create division, suspicion, and inequality”, and said the government was to blame.
Draft statutory guidance, which will form the basis of new relationships education lessons for all pupils from next year, states that pupils at primary school have to learn that others’ families “sometimes look different from their family” and that they should “respect those differences and know that other children’s families are also characterised by love and care”.
The guidance also makes explicit reference to the fact that marriage is a legal right for opposite and same-sex couples.
But a “frequently asked questions” document also published by the government insists that though primary schools are “enabled and encouraged to cover LGBT content if they consider it age appropriate to do so”, there is no requirement for them to teach it.
Hewitt-Clarkson said the FAQs document, which is more accessible to parents than the long and technical statutory guidance, was unhelpful, and questioned why LGBT teaching was singled-out as an issue by the government.
“The answer to that question said ‘there is no specific requirement to teach LGBT in primary schools. They can cover it if they think it’s age-appropriate’.
“How is LGBT allowed by the DfE to be singled out for special consideration for whether it’s appropriate enough? Frequently asked questions are not policy, but this is why I have these protests.”
In a message to Hinds, Hewitt-Clarkson urged the education secretary to work with headteachers in the firing line over LGBT education
“We will write the frequently asked questions because we are frequently asked questions,” she said.
“Damian, you said you are never too young to learn kindness and compassion. But these parents think you are, and your frequently asked questions say that they are. You said no children should walk past protests. Well they do. You said ‘you should be free from intimidation to do your jobs’. We are not.
“So Damian and the DfE. Work with us…and work fast to sort out this unequal mess.”
A spokesperson for the DfE said its guidance was “clear that schools will have flexibility to deliver the content of relationships, sex and health education in a way that is age-appropriate and sensitive to the needs of their pupils”.
“It is also unequivocal that these subjects do not promote anything, they educate.
“There is a clear expectation in the RSE guidance that LGBT content will be taught during a child’s school years – this will be expected at secondary and encouraged and enabled at primary.
“Ultimately it is for the school to decide what is taught in the curriculum and we trust them to make reasonable decisions based on the feedback they receive from parents.”