Iram Ramzan

The shame of the Parkfield school protesters

An estimated 600 children were withdrawn for the day from a primary school in Birmingham last week. A rather disturbing video has since been circulating on social media, showing scores of Muslim parents with their young children in Birmingham, shouting “shame, shame, shame”. What has caused such a reaction? Parkfield, a primary school in Saltley, teaches a programme called No Outsiders which is designed to encourage children to be “happy and excited about living in a community full of difference and diversity”. It covers issues such as race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or religion. One part of the programme, on LGBT rights, offended some Muslim parents who saw it as a promotion of homosexuality. It prompted Fatima Shah to withdraw her 10-year-old daughter from the school, saying children were too young to be learning about same-sex marriages and LGBT rights in the classroom. “We are not a bunch of homophobic mothers,” she said, while holding a leaflet with the heading: “Is it okay for your child to be gay?”

This is “indoctrination, not education” the protestors insisted. Normally it might be amusing hearing hardline religious people complaining about indoctrination with no sense of irony. Except this situation is not funny at all. It is worrying. People are entitled to their religious beliefs and they are entitled to teach those values to their children. However, they should not expect a state-funded school to stop teaching subjects because it goes against their religious beliefs. Where does it end? Do we stop teaching evolution?

The debate is being framed around parental choice and liberalism, as though schools are now denying parents the right to teach their children what they believe. This is not the case at all. Conservative religious groups – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – have united and co-opted the language of liberalism and human rights to defend their views. But if homophobic behaviour isn’t tolerated, why does religion get a free pass? Schools minister Nick Gibb said it was important for schools to take the religious beliefs of their pupils into account when they decide to deliver certain content to ensure topics were handled appropriately. This is bigotry of low expectations.

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