Headteachers call on education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to investigate diocese ban on gay author

Lily Wakefield May 1, 2022
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Conservative education secretary Nadhim Zahawi.

Conservative education secretary Nadhim Zahawi. (AFP via Getty/ TOLGA AKMEN)

Headteachers across the country have voted for education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to investigate Southwark Diocese, which banned a gay author from speaking at a London school.

In March, gay, award-winning children’s author Simon James Green was scheduled to do a World Book Week talk and book-signing at The John Fisher School in Croydon, an event that was supported by school staff and governors.

But the Diocese of Southwark, which oversees the Catholic boys’ secondary school, blocked the talk, insisting it fell “outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school”.

When the school’s leadership team and governors voted to go ahead with Green’s visit anyway, the diocese overruled them and even removed several governors.

When the NAHT, a union for headteachers, held its school leaders conference held in Telford on Saturday, 30 April, it addressed the issue with an emergency motion, proposed by Dave Woods, headteacher of Beaconsfield Primary School, addressing the conflict.

The emergency motion read: “Conference sends its support and backing to the senior leadership of the John Fisher School and the governors who have stood firm in their determination to recognise, value and celebrate the rights and the lives of the young LGBT+ people in their community.

“Further, conference calls upon the national executive to use all available means to ensure that the Secretary of State for Education [Nadhim Zahawi] investigates the removal of foundation governors at the school and continued attempts by the archdiocese to appoint governors who are riding roughshod over existing statutory guidance setting out the arrangements for the constitution of governing bodies.”

Speaking at the conference, Woods said: “What message does this send out to the LGBT+ community in schools? To the pupils, the staff, the parents? It sends a message of intolerance or harking-back to those dark days of exclusion… which many LGBT+ adults remember, or try to block out from their own past experiences.”

As the confirmed voted through the motion of support, attendees gave a standing ovation.

Staff at The John Fisher School who are members of the National Education Union (NEU) began a strike on Thursday (28 April), insisting they were determined not to “stand by and watch those who identify as LGBT+ be singled out for adverse and degrading treatment”.

The Catholic secondary school also faced a snap OFSTED inspection in the wake of the conflict as the watchdog was “concerned about the effectiveness of leadership and management (including governance) and, in particular, leaders’ and governors’ work to promote and provide for the personal development of pupils at the school”.

While OFSTED acknowledged that staff were “steering the school well through this difficult time”, it added: “Immediate steps must be taken to restore stability to governance, and in turn ensure that leadership is provided with the support and challenge needed to build further on the school’s strong provision for pupils’ personal development.”

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