PARKFIELD community school in Birmingham is back in the news. Its pupils, aged 3 to 11, will not be taught about LGBT and homophobia this week nor for the rest of the term. Last week it was in the news for the opposite reason. Several hundred mainly Muslim parents kept their children at home in protest that these lessons had been taught to their children.
So, has the protest worked? Have parental claims that the school is promoting gay and transgender lifestyles been accepted? Is the white flag of surrender flying? Hardly! This truce is temporary. The school has confirmed to the BBC that what it describes as its ‘No Outsiders’ programme is still an integral part of its ethos. As part of its curriculum planning, however, it was never intended that it be taught during this particular half term.
Teaching about LGBT and homophobia will, though, be back next term or the term following. And let’s face it, who could reasonably be opposed to a school policy of inclusivity that promotes a society built on ‘no outsiders’? Furthermore, Ofsted rates the school as ‘outstanding’. Whether this is because of or despite parental support is not clear, but the former is usually the foundation on which pupil progress is built.
By seizing the moral high ground the school has, in this instance, sought to bypass what it appears to regard as prejudice amongst its parent body. The school’s ‘no outsiders’ approach to improving our society does not extend to those who question the wisdom of foisting adult anxieties and angst about gender identity and homophobia on to infants. Nor does it accommodate, let alone embrace, religious beliefs that may be at the heart of a family and a community’s life.
Many amongst the parent body worry that their happy children are becoming unhappy, confused and upset when burdened with the worries of grown-ups. Fatima Shah told the BBC that she and other parents of the school regard the LGBT and homophobia lessons as ‘not age-appropriate’. She added:
We have no problem with the Equalities Act, we have no problem with teaching them British values, but this is not teaching them British values, this is promoting homosexuality, this is confusing children.
Children are coming home, girls are asking whether it is true they can be boys, boys as young as four asking whether it is true we can be girls. There is no need for it.
Age-appropriateness is at the heart of this dispute.
Another parent, Maqsood Hussain, said:
We have no discrimination against people of transgender or LGBT persuasion. We as a community are very welcoming of those people. But our children and the ages they are actually providing this material is inappropriate.
Andrew Moffat, the architect of the school’s ‘no outsiders’ ethos and its assistant head teacher, was appointed an MBE for his work on equality education. He has been short-listed for a $1million ‘world’s best teacher’ award.
Undoubtedly, he is well intentioned and he will deserve to win the award if he can show how his ‘no outsiders’ belief can include and embrace those billion around the world who, broadly, share the outlook of so many of his current parent body. With young children, the Golden Rule – treat others as you would wish to be treated – should be his starting point and his finishing point. What is more, it should be more than enough to restore peace and mutual respect to his school community.