Classroom equality campaigners Schools Out have said today that the state of current rules on anti-gay materials means schools may be given “a licence to promote bigotry”.
Schools Out believes teachers should educate out prejudice in the classroom and has spoken out as part of the debate on anti-gay texts in schools.
In an exchange with the government, the TUC called last week for clearer guidance on what materials should be allowed in schools, arguing there are some which it may be “almost impossible” to teach without disadvantaging gay students.
The TUC wrote that schools should “be given further guidance that makes explicit how the Equality Act applies to what they teach and what materials they use, including advising them that using materials such as [the booklet in question, “Pure Manhood”] is unacceptable.”
Schools Out co-chair Tony Fenwick said when he requested clarification, he received a copy of the letter Education Secretary Michael Gove had sent to the TUC. That letter drew a distinction between the materials themselves, which cannot be banned under the rules, and the way in which such materials are taught, which can.
Mr Gove wrote that “the way the curriculum is taught is covered by the provisions of the Act”.
“If a school conveyed its beliefs in a way that involved haranguing, harassing or berating a gay or lesbian pupil or group of pupils then this would be unacceptable in any circumstances and is likely to constitute unlawful discrimination.”
Gove continues that schools “have discretion in what is taught within PSHE [Personal, Social, Health and Economic] education and how it is taught (while having due regard to the Equality Act). Schools should take into account the ethos of the school, as well as the views of parents and pupils.”
Mr Fenwick said today: “We welcome the fact that ‘the way the curriculum is taught’ is ‘covered by the provisions of the Act’ and that ‘schools must ensure that the needs of all pupils are met’. But beyond that everything seems to be optional.
“The words ‘encouraged to’ and ‘non-statutory guidance’ simply mean that schools have the possibility of opting out of promoting equality for LGBT people if they so wish, and ‘should take account of the ethos of the school’ suggests a faith ethos can allow a school to override the requirements of the Act.
“Furthermore, these comments apply to Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) and Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education. Although Schools OUT argues that LGBT people should be usualised in all curriculum subjects, SRE and PSHE are particularly sensitive areas and therefore there should be greater emphasis on the need to promote equal opportunities, not less.
“These get out clauses could give schools a licence to promote bigotry.”
The Department for Education has consistently said any school “engaging in the promotion of homophobic material would be acting unlawfully.”
Schools Out was, however, also celebrating the success of its anti-homophobia resources for teachers this week.
Seeking to present LGBT people and issues in a positive way throughout different subject areas and age groups, the resources were made available for LGBT History Month on the Classroom area of the Schools Out website and on the shared resources pages of the Times Educational Supplement (TES).
Latest figures show that, despite LGBT History Month being over, nearly 500 teachers viewed the resources on the TES website in the last week, with a total viewing figure of nearly 6000.