Government ‘too slow’ to tackle anti-LGBT school protests

Protestors lined up outside of Parkfield School, Birmingham

The government was “too slow” to respond to the “mob” protests outside primary schools in Birmingham over the teaching of LGBT rights, the adviser tasked with challenging extremism in the UK has said.

Sara Khan told BBC’s Panorama that the Department for Education should have given more support to head teachers and clarified exactly what is being taught in classrooms.

Khan was appointed by the home secretary to lead the Commission for Countering Extremism, but is independent from government.

She said “so much more” could have been done by the government in response to the protests.

“I think they were too slow to respond. There’s a lot of confusion about what’s actually being taught and I think the Department of Education could have played a very important role in clarifying to parents this is what’s actually being taught, not the misinformation that we’re seeing out there,” Khan said.

Describing the protests at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, she added: “It’s a mob chanting and shouting and engaging in intimidating and threatening behaviour.

“And I think we have to recognise that and call it out for what it is.”

Sara Khan was appointed by the home secretary to lead the Commission for Countering Extremism (BBC)

The school faced protests from Muslims and evangelical Christians who are opposed to lessons that teach children about LGBT+ people.

It later suspended its “No Outsiders” inclusive diversity programme, which the school used to teach LGBT+ equality through books.

BBC Panorama has also seen letters between the school and the Department for Education, sent at the height of the protests, which make clear the school felt they were put under immense pressure by the government to suspend the scheme.

 One letter from the school said: “The DfE would like us to stop our teaching of equality to make this issue disappear”, quoting a department official within the same email as saying, “our top priority is that Parkfield School is no longer on national news”.

The Department for Education told Panorama that it does not accept that pressure was applied to stop teaching about equality at Parkfield.

They said that any suggestion the dispute should be kept out of the media was not intended to silence the school, but to bring an end to the protests and encourage consultation.

Protests were also held at Anderton Park Primary School, with campaigners claiming it was morally wrong to teach children about LGBT+ relationships.

Anderton Park Primary School

Protests also took place outside Anderton Park Primary School

The schools have said they were teaching children about diversity in society and all the groups covered by the Equality Act.

From September 2020, it will be compulsory to teach relationships education for primary-age pupils and relationships and sex education (RSE) for secondary-age pupils.

The guidance for schools also says all teaching must be “with respect to the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils and parents”.

Education secretary Damian Hinds told BBC Panorama: “We want children to grow up understanding that some people are different, some relationships are different from what they may have experienced, but all are valuable.

He said that schools and head teachers should “know their cohorts of children” and be able to decide when and how it’s appropriate to address the subject.

Asked whether he should have acted sooner to stop the protests, the Secretary of State said: “I have been very clear throughout that there should not be protests outside school.

“And you know we want schools to consult with parents to be talking to parents and that dialogue is a good thing. That’s not the same as there being a veto of what gets taught at school. But the dialogue I think is helpful.”

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) told BBC Panorama that the suspension of the No Outsiders programme at Parkfield School in March made the situation worse and that it was a “fatal mistake”.

Rob Kelsall, national secretary of the NAHT, said: “It gave an impression, it gave almost licence, to people in communities that actually if they turned up outside of a school with loud hailers and protest that other schools would back down too.”

 He said other schools were seeing a push back from parents and campaigners, adding: “We’re seeing cases being referred almost on a weekly basis now… over 70 schools where these issues have been raised directly.”

“Letters being sent to school leaders asking the school to stop teaching relationship education, threats to withdraw their children, through to organised rallies and events”, he continued.

BBC Panorama’s Sex Education: The LGBT Debate in Schools will air at 8.30pm on BBC One on Monday 15 July.