Rebel Priest reported on Thursday that the Diocese of Birmingham has responded to pleas from the concerned parents protesting at Parkfield Community School in Saltley, Birmingham, over inappropriate sex education with a flat refusal to recognise their concerns.
Leaving aside for the moment the diplomatic snub this represents, it is worth taking a closer look at the reasons given by the diocese for not supporting the parents’ cause. Writing for the diocese and on behalf of David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, Kate Stowe, his Chaplain, contends that it is ‘delivering the Equalities [sic] Act’ that mandates the school’s programme notwithstanding the parents’ objections. But this is misleading and inaccurate as it wrongly asserts that the Equality Act 2010 obliges schools as a ‘requirement of the law’ to teach children about ‘the right for people to choose their identity and who they wish to love.’ In fact, government guidance is clear that the Equality Act specifically does not apply to a school’s curriculum and further spells out that no school or teacher is under any obligation to ‘support, promote or endorse marriage of same sex couples.’
The diocese is also incorrect to suggest that there is a right under British law for people to ‘choose their identity’ or ‘who they wish to love’, since no such right is stated in any UK legislation. Certainly there is no legal obligation arising from the Equality Act for schools to teach such things to children. In fact, the government guidance makes clear that the Equality Act was drafted specifically so as to leave schools free to teach in accordance with their own religious or educational ethos – something the Church of England should know better than most. This means that the diocese’s argument to concerned parents that the school is somehow obliged under the Equality Act to teach controversial matters of sexuality to primary school children is incorrect as a matter of law.
What is more, the law that primarily applies in this case is Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the 1998 Human Rights Act, which runs: ‘In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’ It is not clear how the approach of Parkfield Community School in this matter could be said to be honouring of its responsibilities under the Human Rights Act.
This said, it is true is that the government is currently in the process of bringing in compulsory relationships and sex education with new guidance that is ‘LGBT inclusive’. This will replace the current guidance from 2000 which schools are obliged to have regard to with new guidance which, as currently drafted, includes this:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)
36. In teaching Relationships Education and RSE, schools should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met, and that all pupils understand the importance of equality and respect. Schools must ensure that they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010, (please see The Equality Act 2010 and schools: Departmental advice), under which sexual orientation and gender reassignment are amongst the protected characteristics.
37. Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age appropriate in approach and content. At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a stand-alone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, and we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.
There is also a section on equality and positive action which is similarly heavy-handed. It instructs schools that ‘in designing and teaching these subjects’ they should take into consideration the ‘provisions within the Equality Act’ that ‘allow schools to take positive action, where it can be shown that it is proportionate, to deal with particular disadvantages affecting one group because of a protected characteristic.’ This guidance may be what the diocese has in mind. However, it is worth observing that the new draft guidance is not entirely transparent in that it might lead someone who is not familiar with the Equality Act to think (as the bishop’s email suggests the diocese does) that the Equality Act places requirements on the content of a school curriculum when it expressly does no such thing.
In any case, the bigger question here is how either the approach of Parkfield Community School or the new draft RSE guidance, in pushing the LGBT agenda regardless of the ‘religious and philosophical convictions’ of parents, is consistent with Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the Human Rights Act. Most worrying is the sense that government and schools are now losing all sight of how controversial homosexuality and transgenderism are among anyone who is socially conservative (or, in the case of transgenderism, many liberals as well), and especially among religious communities. It reinforces the sense that the postmodern sexuality agenda trumps all other considerations, even those enshrined in the Human Rights Act. This needs to be challenged in court as well as in Parliament and in schools around the country.