UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds has backed teachers at a Birmingham school that has faced protests over LGBT-inclusive education.
The Conservative minister spoke out in support of Parkfield Community School, which has faced weeks of protests from Muslims and evangelical Christians who are opposed to anti-bullying lessons that teach children about LGBT+ people.
Hundreds of parents reportedly refused to send their children to school on Friday (March 1) as part of the protest, demanding the school scrap the No Outsiders programme run by gay assistant headteacher Andrew Moffat.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds: School leaders best-placed to make decisions
Speaking to Schools Week about the controversy on Saturday (March 9), Damian Hinds emphasised new guidance on sex and relationship education, published in February, which states “we expect all pupils to have been taught” about LGBT+ issues.
Hinds told the outlet: “First of all we should be clear the Parkfield question is of course before the RSHE guidance has come into place.
“I’ve always been clear that I support headteachers to make decisions and we believe in school autonomy, that school leaders are best-placed to make decisions.”
He added: “Of course, it’s also right to consult with parents.
“That is just good practice anyway, and in the new guidance that’s quite clear about the need to consult with parents, but yes I do back headteachers.”
Ofsted chief condemns Parkfield protests
His intervention comes after Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman hit out at the protests.
In an interview with the BBC, published on Thursday (February 21) she said: “It’s making sure they know just enough to know that some people prefer not to get married of someone of the opposite sex, and sometimes there are families that have two mummies or two daddies.
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“It’s about making sure that children who do happen to realise that they themselves may not fit a conventional pattern know that they’re not bad or ill.
“It’s something that a vast majority of faith schools, including those who teach that homosexuality is not right in their faith, still manage to do this in a sensitive and careful way that does fulfil the law.”
Responding to the protests, she said: “We’ve got to have a sane, rational discussion. To say, are there places where it’s not working well enough? It’s conversation that will change it, not protests.
“The essence of democracy means that we don’t always get our own way… there will always be things that some of us don’t like.”
Government equalities minister: Parents ‘have a responsibility’ to back school
In an interview with PinkNews in February, the government’s junior equalities minister Baroness Williams also spoke about the row.
She said: “It’s so difficult for that school, and I do appreciate some of the problems that schools might have.
“The fact your headteacher is gay, doesn’t make your headteacher any less of a good headteacher than if your headteacher was straight. I think parents have got responsibility to support the authorities that are teaching their children.”
The minister added: “I think schools need to be sensitive to concerns, and I think they need to teach in a sensitive way so as to not undermine people’s religious sensibilities, and most schools do.
“I think there’s a there’s a balance to be struck between the needs of the parents and the children, and the things that need to be taught in school.”