No Outsiders and in particular the teaching of LGBT issues must continue, if we want to protect the values that are enshrined in British law, says Colin Diamond
Word spread quickly on social media last week that Parkfield Community School in Birmingham had suspended the teaching of No Outsiders lessons “until a resolution has been reached”. Now we learn that a further four schools in the neighbouring Leigh Academy Trust have also withdrawn from teaching the programme. And pressure has mounted elsewhere, with parents being asked to sign petitions demanding the same action in other schools.
The Parkfield news was greeted with both triumph and despair. Local voices lobbying for the removal of No Outsiders and its author, assistant head Andy Moffat, sensed victory and called off the protests. The wider schools community deplored the decision and saw it as capitulating to homophobic pressure.
No Outsiders is designed to create a culture of inclusion
These views are evidence that things had become polarised and the local situation was unstable. Ugly scenes outside school every morning were frightening children, disrupting normal, safe routines and damaging wider community relationships. Away from the media glare, politicians, officers from the city council and officials from the Department for Education were working hard to bring people together. So a compromise was reached – for now.
The crucial questions now are, “What happens next?” and “Will No Outsiders continue to be taught?”
Parkfield is a remarkable school. I have visited on many occasions. In 2018 I was proud to invite mandarins from the Department for Education to see for themselves this outstanding beacon of inner-city education. Its pupils thrive, with gravity-defying outcomes.
Under the leadership of executive headteacher, Hazel Pulley, Parkfield embedded No Outsiders teaching into its curriculum four years ago. No Outsiders, produced by Moffat, is designed to create a culture of inclusion where there are, literally, no outsiders. Rooted in the Equalities Act 2010, it promotes understanding and tolerance of all groups who have protected characteristics under the Act. Right now, the focus is on teaching about LGBT issues, but No Outsiders is much broader than that. It embraces learning about race, religion, gender, disability and age discrimination. Sit down and listen to the children and you know they have a mature understanding of why there must be no outsiders.
Parkfield’s “outstanding” status was reaffirmed by Ofsted’s recent inspection and No Outsiders teaching was judged “age appropriate”. So what’s behind this?
In 2014 the Trojan Horse episode brought national opprobrium to education in Birmingham. The proud tradition of leading-edge practice and innovation, which was particularly strengthened during the era when Tim Brighouse was chief education officer, had been undermined by people seeking to run inner city schools along Islamic principles.
The defining feature of Trojan Horse was the infiltration of governing bodies with the aim of narrowing the curriculum and introducing teaching driven by the 2007 Muslim Council of Britain publication Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools, co-authored by Tahir Alam and influenced by the local Al-Hijrah Trust. Alam was subsequently barred from the management of schools by DfE as a result of his Trojan activities. The DfE’s Clarke Report and Birmingham City Council’s Kershaw Report both found substantial evidence of damaged governance, school leaders being undermined and pressure to introduce Islamic ideals. At the core of Trojan, the notorious Park View Brotherhood, a group of over 50 male members of staff, shared vile homophobic messages within their WhatsApp group.
We must be resolute and hold to the values of the Equalities Act
Many lessons were learnt from Trojan Horse and governance of schools in the city and nationally is now stronger. It is no longer possible to infiltrate governing bodies of maintained schools or academies. The Birmingham Curriculum Statement, first produced in 2015 and updated in March 2018, states that, “We will not allow any attempts to narrow the curriculum, or to deny our children and young people their right to education”. Initiatives including the UNICEF Rights Respecting Award and Compassionate Education have thrived in the city.
Now there have been worrying signs that the Trojan-type behaviours are being driven from outside the school gates. In recent years there have been two other Birmingham schools where parents sought to discredit the leadership via subversive letter-writing campaigns. They led to Ofsted inspections, the outcomes of which were influenced by organised unruly student behaviour. There are signs that activists from Trojan days are behind some of the campaigns.
We must be resolute and hold to the values of the Equalities Act and the Birmingham Curriculum Statement. Local dialogue is essential – but there are red lines here. No Outsiders and in particular the teaching of LGBT issues must continue. If it does not, I guarantee that the next targets will be music, drama, liberal humanities and girls’ participation in sports. No Outsiders is taking off in schools across the UK: it needs to continue to thrive in the community where it is most needed.
Colin Diamond was Deputy Education Commissioner in Birmingham 2014/15 and Executive Director for Education Birmingham City Council 2015/18