Ministers accused of 'radio silence' over LGBT school protests


The former integration tsar, Dame Louise Casey, has accused ministers of “radio silence” over protests against the teaching of LGBT equality at a Birmingham school.

Casey said the government had failed to act on what she described as homophobic demonstrations because it was in the “all-too-difficult box”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ministers “needed to be much clearer about upholding the laws of this country and the values that we hold”

Campaigners resumed protests outside Anderton Park primary school last week after months of angry demonstrations by some parents against equality lessons that use books featuring same-sex couples.

A number of schools across Birmingham were targeted by the protests, which MPs said had been hijacked by those with a “religious, extremist agenda”.

Most of the protesters have been of Muslim faith and some have stood regularly outside Anderton Park primary chanting “Let kids be kids” and carrying placards with the message: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

Casey, who wrote a landmark report on integration in Britain, said ministers had “just been too silent” on the issue.

The Department for Education says all state schools will teach children about relationships and health education, including LGBT issues, from September 2020. It also issues non-statutory draft guidance to independent and faith schools.

400 predominantly Muslim parents sign a petition demanding Parkfield Community School in the Saltley area of Birmingham drop the “No Outsiders” programme run as part of sex and relationship education (SRE) lessons. Its ethos is to promote LGBT equality and challenge homophobia in primary schools.

The head of Ofsted backs the teaching of same-sex relationships in primary schools. England’s chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman, said it was right that children were taught about same-sex couples – regardless of religious background: “It’s making sure they know just enough to know that some people prefer not to get married to someone of the opposite sex and that sometimes there are families that have two mummies or two daddies. It’s about making sure that children who do happen to realise that they themselves may not fit a conventional pattern, know that they are not bad.”

Parkfield school suspends the lessons after hundreds of children are withdrawn from the school in protest. Children from reception age through to year six were being taught five No Outsiders lessons a year, each one covering topics to meet requirements in the Equality Act. Books being read by the pupils include Mommy, Mama and Me, and King & King – stories about same-sex relationships and marriages.

Parkfield is cleared of any wrongdoing by Ofsted. Inspectors visited it in February after complaints from the protesting parents. On the basis of the inspection, the schools watchdog ruled in favour of the school, praising its record on promoting “tolerance, acceptance and mutual respect” and confirming its Ofsted rating of “outstanding”.

BBC journalists publicly criticise Question Time after the programme’s decision to feature an audience member asking: “Is it morally right that five-year-old children learn about LGBTQ+ issues in school?”. All of the panellists, including education secretary Damian Hinds, agree that schools should teach such subjects, but journalists criticised the decision to even put the topic up for debate.

Kristie Higgs, a Christian secondary school assistant, is dismissed from a school in Gloucestershire after she posted an online petition against LGBT issues being taught at her son’s primary school.

Police are called to Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham after LGBT-inclusivity campaigners and their children were pelted with eggs for tying supportive messages and rainbow ribbons to the school gates. The following day, the school’s headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson estimates that about half the children at the school were withdrawn from lessons by parents. She believes many were intimidated by protesters who stood guard on the roads that led to the school. The protests had been going on for eight weeks, even though the school does not teach the “No Outsiders” material.

Conservative MP, Esther McVey, at the time bidding for leadership of the party to make her Prime Minister, says it should be up to parents if they want to withdraw their primary-age children from lessons on same-sex relationships. “I believe parents know best for their children. While they’re still children – and we’re talking primary school – then really the parents need to have the final say on what they want their children to know.”

Citing “increasing fears for the safety and wellbeing of the staff, children and parents”, Birmingham city council obtains a high court injunction preventing protesters in the streets immediately surrounding the school printing or distributing leaflets, inviting others to protest and encouraging people to congregate at the entrance.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, says she has reported fellow Labour MP Roger Godsiff to the party’s chief whip after he says “you’re right” to protesters at the Anderton Park primary school, which is in his constituency. The party say “Roger Godsiff will be spoken to by the chief whip and reminded of his responsibilities as an MP”.

“Laws have been put through parliament that protect religious freedoms and protect the rights of people who are gay and want to get married,” she added.

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“That has to be promoted – that we respect both but that both also have to respect each other.”

Casey said the protests stemmed from a lack of integration by some communities. Asked whether she was discriminating against Muslims with her remarks, Casey said: “If I was gay and watching what was happening in Birmingham, I would say it was discriminatory.

“When you see it on the television, what I hear is homophobia and homophobia is not a value I want any child in this country to grow up and learn.”

In June a high court injunction was granted banning the protests immediately outside Anderton Park.

However, that did little to quell the demonstrations, which continued every week during term time just outside the exclusion zone. A trial in October will determine whether the injunction has been effective.

One of the protesters, Rosina Afsar, whose son goes to Anderton Park, accused Casey of discriminating against people of Muslim faith.

“Saying that we don’t integrate is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard,” she said.

“It’s absolutely nonsense. We have so many friends in interracial relationships so how can we not be mixing?

“Part of British values is also to allow people to live according to their faiths. End of.”

Earlier this month another Birmingham school that suspended lessons about LGBT equality following protests resume a modified version of the programme. Parents of pupils at Parkfield community school in Saltley had staged weekly protests over the relationship lessons, which they claimed promoted gay and transgender lifestyles.

In March, hundreds of mainly Muslim children, aged between four and 11, were withdrawn from the school for the day.

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