According to the Education Secretary Damian Hinds, ‘every child must learn about gay relationships before leaving school’. Under plans drawn up by his department, educating pupils about LGBT relationships will become compulsory from September 2020.This announcement follows Angela Eagle’s emotional and passionate defence of a Birmingham school besieged by protesters for teaching children as young as four about gay couples and transgenderism.
Indeed, Anderton Park Primary School – the Birmingham school in question – has found itself at the centre of what some would characterise as a dispute between two very different value systems. On one side you have the self-styled defenders of secular, socially progressive liberalism, and on the other, you have conservative religious values or, more accurately in this case, conservative Muslim values. Damian Hinds’ colleague at the Department for Education, Nick Gibb, has certainly lacked circumspection when describing the dispute in such terms, dismissing the protesters as representative of the ‘extreme [end] of the debate’.
For several weeks now, predominantly Muslim parents have been demonstrating against the school’s approach to promoting equality – an approach that involves books that feature cross-dressing children and gay families. Shakeel Afsar, the self-appointed leader of the demonstrators who, interestingly, does not have a child at the school, accuses the headteacher, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, of ‘social engineering’. Clarkson has reportedly received threatening emails and phone calls and, in a further escalation of the dispute, hundreds of pupils were kept off school by disgruntled parents.
But should we see this as another example of secular values conflicting with those held by some of our more conservative Islamic communities? Like Nick Gibb, a recent Newsnight report certainly thinks we should. Apart from a perfunctory nod to ‘some’ Christians sharing the reservations of ‘some’ Muslims, there was little exploration of wider societal concerns about children being given these books.