Andy Burnham: Faith schools should be forced to teach about gay relationships

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Labour leadership hopeful Andy Burnham has spoken out about faith schools, saying they should not be able to use religion in order to avoid teaching about gay and lesbian issues.

Speaking in a PinkNews interview published yesterday, the MP for Leigh, who announced his bid for the Labour leadership last month, said he had “no support for” faith schools’ position that they should be able to opt-out of teaching sex and relationships education (SRE).

He was asked about Catholic schools saying forcing them to teach SRE would violate their religious freedom.

“They’re wrong. They’re straightforwardly wrong,” Mr Burnham said, speaking frankly.

“Though I did say that, and the Church did have a part in my upbringing, I am not a regular church-goer, I have to admit – even if that might cause me difficulty at home, in terms of my kids’ schools.

“I have no support for their position on the issue. None at all. The government’s weakening of SRE is a real problem – particularly in a context of a school system that is more atomised and less accountable.”

Of his children’s accounts of homophobic bullying, he said: “If I listened to what my kids tell me is said at school – homophobic bullying is a massive problem, that’s what my kids would say. The casual bullying at school is a real, real problem.

“That has to be tackled right there, and not only should SRE be absolutely compulsory, but there must be absolute equality in terms of all relationships within sex and relationships education in terms of how it is taught.”

He continued: “I worry about an education policy that is making the academy or the free school judge and jury – letting it basically do what it wants. It’s the danger with this policy is that you move more and more away from the comprehensive ideal, and more and more towards their own curriculum, their own take on things, their own slant on the curriculum… I think that is a worrying development in education.”

Expanding on issues faced by the Catholic Church in a world where LGBT rights are being gradually more accepted, he said: “I think it’s a big moment for the Church, when Ireland of all places votes in that way, for the Church to be massively at odds with public opinion in one of its most loyal heartlands. It’s becoming a real issue- how can they possibly ignore it?”

Mr Burnham also revealed his support for LGBT equality damaged his relationship with parts of his own family. He also brands criticism of his record on LGBT rights “hurtful” and “unfair”.