The editor of Telegraph Blogs has told PinkNews.co.uk he did not accidentally tweet the outcome of a government investigation into Catholic schools and the Coalition for Marriage’s anti-gay marriage petition after a dinner with Michael Gove.
Damian Thompson had meant to send a direct message to the composer James MacMillan at the weekend, having attended a dinner party at which Education Secretary Michael Gove was present.
Mr Thompson accidentally sent a public tweet to his 8,600 followers on the micro-blogging platform which read: “supper w Fr J Large & M Gove last night. Common ground. Gove promised Catholic schls cn oppose gay marriage. Top secret!”
Alerted to the mistake, he quickly deleted the tweet and added: “One of these days I’ll get the hang of Twitter…”
Mr Thompson told PinkNews.co.uk the tweet in no way pre-empted the outcome of the Department for Education’s investigation, which he was not aware of when he attended the dinner.
He added that there had been no discussion of the investigation or of the promotion of marriage as a political view in Catholic schools.
Instead, he had told the guests that in his view, Catholic schools should be able to teach their doctrinal view of marriage as being between a man and a woman exclusively, a view with which Mr Gove agreed.
PinkNews.co.uk understands that this would not represent a change of position for Mr Gove as there is no prohibition on Catholic schools teaching their view of marriage, so long as they do not it in a way which breaches the Equality or Education Acts, the issue on which they are currently being investigated.
After PinkNews.co.uk revealed last month that the Catholic Education Service had written to Catholic secondary schools across England and Wales asking them to promote the Coalition for Marriage’s anti-gay marriage petition, the Welsh government was first to launch an investigation into whether schools may have broken the law.
The Department for Education subsequently announced its own investigation, which is ongoing.
The Welsh education minister wrote to Catholic schools telling them that had they followed the Catholic Education Service’s letter, they may have broken laws on political partisanship by promoting a one-sided view of a political issue.
The Catholic Education Service did not initially specify that the Coalition for Marriage petition, which it asked schools to draw pupils’ attention to, could only be signed by people over the age of 16, leading at least one secondary school to give an assembly to students as young as 12 which ended with a slide displaying the words ‘Sign the petition’.
Sections 406-7 of the Education Act 1996 forbids ‘the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school’, and requires balanced treatment of political issues as they are taught.
The Welsh Minister for Education and Skills, Leighton Andrews, told Catholic schools this month that if they promoted the Coalition for Marriage, they would have to now promote the view in favour of equal marriage.
He said the petition related “to political matters generally as [it] is seeking to persuade people to lobby the Westminster Government to prevent a change in the law [...]
“I trust you will ensure that if your pupils have been made aware of this correspondence they will also be made aware of the converse view in order to give them a balanced perspective.”
The British Humanist Association said at the time it appeared to be “one of the most clear-cut examples of political indoctrination in schools that has ever been seen”.
A Department for Education spokesperson reiterated its position to PinkNews.co.uk following Mr Thompson’s tweet, saying: “Schools have a responsibility under law to ensure children are insulated from political activity and campaigning in the classroom.
“While faith schools, rightly, have the freedom to teach about sexual relations and marriage in the context of their own religion, that should not extend to political campaigning.
“Officials are looking into this as ministers are anxious to establish the full facts of this case.”