The headteacher of a Birmingham primary school dogged by months of protests over its teaching of same-sex relationships is calling on the government and human rights watchdogs to lay out “in no uncertain terms” how schools should uphold equality in lessons.
Speaking to RightsInfo today (June 14), Anderton Park primary school headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson warned that guidance for schools is needed to prevent “a lot of damage that can be done” in the time before “welcome” new government legislation making relationships education compulsory comes into effect in September 2020.
The primary school has endured months of demonstrations from largely Muslim, but also Conservative Christian and Jewish, protestors who take exception to the schools teaching on same-sex relationships.
But the demonstrations on its doorstep have since been quelled after the High Court issued an injunction last month.
Image Credit: Youtube/BBC Newsnight
Asked what should be done to avoid these protests recurring, Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson told RightsInfo: “It would be good to see a joint piece of work from the Department for Education (DfE) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to write, in no uncertain terms, what is expected of primary schools in terms of implementing their public sector duty.”
“It should make absolutely clear that no group should be left out.”
She added: “There must be, for example, different books. If you’ve only got books with only white characters, then that’s not representative of the world.
“If your art curriculum is only about Van Gogh and Picasso and other white Europeans, it is not a representative curriculum.”
The 2010 Equality Act places an “equality duty” on all public bodies, such as schools, to eliminate discrimination, harassment and other proscribed conduct towards people on the basis of “protected characteristics” – such as their age, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
I cannot see how that is anything else but discriminatory about a group of people.
Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, Headteacher of Anderton Park Primary School
Though welcoming the DfE’s new regulations, which were approved in April, Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson takes issue with a clause in its “frequently asked questions” section encouraging primary schools to cover LGBT content only if it is “age appropriate to do so”.
“I cannot see how that is anything else but discriminatory about a group of people,” she told RightsInfo.
“It has a separate paragraph on LGBT relationships but does not have a paragraph on whether it’s okay to talk about relationships between people from different races or religions or ages.
“It should say all schools are expected to fulfil their public sector equality duty. It is as if LGBT people’s rights are less important than other people’s rights.”
She added that leaving headteachers to decide whether LGBT content is “age appropriate” will lead to them spending time “on the front steps of their schools dealing with protestors”.
The protestors, who deny that they are homophobic, have taken particular issue with a curriculum called “No Outsiders” which was created in 2014 by Andrew Moffat, a teacher at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham.
Books used in the programme, which was eventually dropped following sustained protests, included stories about two male penguins that raise a chick together and a boy that likes to dress up as a mermaid.
Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson. Image Credit: Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson.
Anderton Park Primary does not use No Outsiders, Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson explained, but instead weaves the Equality Act into the language it uses throughout the school year.
“In our nursery, if a boy is playing with a doll and another boy says to him ‘boys do not play with dolls’, we would say ‘no that is wrong’,” she explained. “There should not be a question about that.”
Asked what has kept her going through the sustained pressure, the headteacher of 12 years said: “My staff, my personal assistant and my deputy head.
“We have got 100 staff here and everybody is on the same page.”
She spoke of how she has received nearly 100 cards from supporters as far afield as Northern Ireland and Sydney, Australia, as well as flowers and emails.
— Sarah HewittClarkson (@MrsSHC) June 13, 2019
A EHRC spokeswoman said that the regulator is currently developing guidance for schools on transgender inclusion.
A DfE spokeswoman said: “It is not right to protest in front of schools – it is frightening to children and disrespectful to hard working teachers.
“Diversity and equality are a matter of fact and a matter of law and it is important they are covered during children’s schooling. We believe our guidance strikes the right balance between the wide range of views expressed during our public consultation, while giving schools the flexibility to deliver these subjects in a way that works for their pupils.
“We support and trust head teachers to make decisions in the interests of their pupils – parents should share their views and concerns, and schools should listen. However, what is taught and how is ultimately a decision for schools. Consultation does not mean parents have a veto on curriculum content.
“There is no reason why teaching children about the society that we live in and the different types of loving, healthy relationships that exist cannot be done in a way that respects everyone.”