Department for Education refutes “Clause 28” claims for free schools and academies

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The wording of a clause in the model funding agreement for UK free schools and academies has prompted a controversial comparison with infamous Section 28 legislation.

An article published in the Daily Telegraph reproduced part of the funding agreement for free schools, saying it was a new rule introduced by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education.

The rule was included in Clause 28 of the model funding agreement for free schools, prompting comparisons with Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

However, the clause has been found in funding agreements dating back to the first of the academies started under the Labour-initiated programme in 2001.

And when spoke to the Department for Education about the comparison, they confirmed the same rule applies equally to state schools by statute, since those schools do not have funding agreements.

When asked whether the mention of promoting marriage could be seen to discriminate against gays, who cannot legally marry, they drew attention to a Sex and Relationship Education Guidance document published in July 2000, to which free schools and academies must “have regard”.

The Guidance note says: “As part of sex and relationship education, pupils should be taught about the nature and importance of marriage for family life and bringing up children.

“But the Government recognises – as in the Home Office, Ministerial Group on the Family consultation document ‘Supporting Families’ – that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage.

“Therefore pupils should learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society. Care needs to be taken to ensure that there is no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances.”

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 said schools “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

It was removed from the statute books in 2003.

Academies were introduced under a Labour government of 2000, however their number increased from 203 in March 2010 to over a thousand this summer. Unlike normal state schools, they are funded by central, not regional, government and are independent of a local authority.

Academies can set their own curriculum, within boundaries. The free school system, introduced by the current UK government allows parents, teachers, charities and other groups to set up their own academies.