Mindfulness

LGBT Teaching Row

Over recent weeks and months, we have seen demonstrations outside of a primary school in Birmingham against the school teaching about LGBT relationships to the children inside the school. These demonstrations have taken place until recently right outside the school gates and have been described by some as intimidating, for the parents, teachers and the young children themselves.

We thought we would take a look at what the issues are and to see if we can understand how these issues are actually being taught to the children.

To begin with this month, we need to explore what LGBT means and stands for. Sometimes LGBT is also known as LGBT+ or LGBTTQQIAAP. These letters and therefore the term stand for:

Lesbian,

Gay,

Bisexual,

Transgender,

Transsexual,

Queer,

Questioning,

Intersex,

Asexual,

Ally,

Pansexual.

The use of LGBT has been used since the 1990s, amending the term that was used prior to this, and is used as an umbrella term to label topics pertaining to sexuality and gender identity.

Although this term or initialisation is used to described people’s sexuality and gender identity, not everyone agrees with the use of the term and therefore argues against it. For example, there are some people who argue that transgender and transsexual causes are not the same as that of lesbian, gay and bi causes. The general argument there being that transgender or transsexual is more about a person’s understanding of, or not, being a man or women irrespective of their sexual orientation as being gay, lesbian or bi are.

It has been suggested and trialled over time to change the initialisation or term used to describe this group of people, including rainbow in line with its symbolism of pride and the LGBT community.

So, what is happening in Birmingham?

Since last month, groups of people have been protesting outside of Anderton Park Primary School. One of the protesters doesn’t actually have children attending the school and is on the protest demonstration due to his beliefs as well as in support of parents of children who attend the school, he does however have nieces and nephews who attend the school. These protests have been taking place right outside the school gates and have at times been seen as intimating for parents, who are being told to not take their children in to school, intimidating to the teachers who have turned up to work and the children who are on their way to undertake their learning through their school day. Late last month a court injunction was put into place to ensure that the protests were moved away from the school gates ensuring a safe space for parents, teachers and children to attend school, and on Monday of this week, this has been granted to last by a court until a full trial takes place next month. The case in court will consider if the school is breaking the law in delivering these lessons.

On the 20th of last month it became known that the police were called in to investigate phone calls and emails that were received by the head teacher which were threatening in nature. This clearly is not a conducive way of fairly representing either side of the argument.

The protests are focusing on lessons for which children have been given books featuring cross-dressing children as well as gay families. Most of the protests have come from Muslim protestors. It has been suggested by the leader of the protests that the lessons are leading to ‘social engineering’.

It is important to note that by September 2020 relationships’ education will be compulsory in all schools in England.

We do need to look at the use of the term that the Department for Education is using in draft guidance which is due to come into force in the academic year commencing September next year. The term used for primary schools is relationship education, sex education is not mentioned until secondary education. I feel that this is an important distinction to make! The guidance does say that schools will need to cover puberty in primary education, and it would be for the school to determine if they need to add any additional areas of sex education to meet the needs of their pupils.

The guidance also stresses that where any school goes further into sex education than the guidelines state is necessary, they must have a policy in place, and that they should consult with parents what will be covered. It also stresses that all schools should use teaching materials which are appropriate to the age and religious background of the children they are teaching. Whilst these are draft guidelines for 2020, I would imagine, considering that they are basic good practice principles, the school in Birmingham would have acted on these principles, prior to using the books that depict cross-dressing and gay families, although this is the issue for the parents who believe the teachers have not done so.

The draft guidelines start discussing relationship education by saying:

‘The focus in primary school should be on teaching the fundamental building blocks and characteristics of positive relationships.’

It goes on to say:

‘This starts with pupils being taught about what a relationship is, what friendship is, what family means and who the people are who can support them.’

Reading these few lines of the guidance alone, you can see what the aims of the lessons are, in that it is designed to support children in understanding the relationships that they will develop and go through in their life. I do feel that in the modern world we live in, there is nothing wrong in educating children that same sex relationships can form a family, after all depending on the parent’s music tastes children may come across for instance Elton John, and he has 2 children in a gay married relationship. Obviously, Elton John is not the only person in a married relationship of 2 same sex parents, but with the release of the film around his life last month, he has obviously come back into the prominent limelight.How can children can be encouraged to develop a tolerance of diverse family relationships? Their relationship education should include a basic outline of the possible and diverse family relationships they could encounter in the world around them.

It is true that throughout life children will develop plenty of relationships, and the guidance is designed to ensure that children are prepared to deal with relationships as they develop. Not only are these guidelines dealing with the face-to-face relationships but go further than this and focus on relationships that children will have and face online. As a safeguarding children trainer I would say surely this is a good thing in a world where children are facing grooming, cyberbullying and also accessing information online that could have a detrimental effect on their mental health.

I also worry for the mental health of the youngest of children who attend the Anderton Park Primary School, who were being asked to walk to school through the barrage of noise and protestors. From the pictures that have been seen on the television screens, the environment facing these children appears hostile and threatening. Whether this is actually how it is or how the camera makes it appear could be down to interpretation, but surely the mental health of these children may be affected if only because of the confusion as to why people are protesting outside what is meant to be a safe place for them. I hear the argument from some of these protestors that the lessons are having a negative impact on the child’s mental health, it has been alleged that children have gone home after school, explaining that they no longer know if they are a boy in a girl’s body or vice versa. If this is the case then the lessons would need to be explored to discover how these are being taught, and also discussion would need to be made with the children to see if they are feeling this way or are describing the lessons that they have had, remembering the importance of children discussing what they have learnt at school with their parents.

It can be said that this education of children and the subjects and content covered is an emotive subject. It is important that in a world of free speech that these opinions are discussed and considered by all, however what the education of relationships does not do, and is not designed to do, is to instruct children to become gay or lesbian etc. Moreover, from the guidance I have read it is to help children to be, and become, tolerant and understanding of the differences that exist in what is a very diverse and interesting country like the United Kingdom.

We are living in a country which is diverse culturally, religiously and across genders, and although there are areas still where there appear to be gaps between men and women, for example in the boardroom, and if you look at Parliament as a whole, however the gender gap appears to narrowing. We are lucky enough to live in a country that is welcoming and inclusive to all, even after the referendum in June 2016, which temporarily saw divisions in the wider community, and whilst today not everyone agrees with every other person’s opinions we are tolerant of those views and generally discuss them to move them forward.

I would hope that moving forward, the protestors in Birmingham look at the lessons closely, maybe even get invited into the lessons to observe them themselves, and see whether what they are feeling about the lessons is justified in their mind having seen or whether their reactions were irrational. It is important for the children in the first instance that this issue gets dealt with appropriately in the local area and the country as a whole. I am sure that when the court hears the case next month more facts will emerge and a resolution will be found.

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