Widespread welcome for Birmingham primary exclusion zone

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

Education minister Damian Hinds has welcomed the granting of an interim injunction against protests over the teaching of equality and LGBT-inclusive content at Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham.

The High Court injunction was sought by Birmingham City Council last week after more than eight weeks of protests outside the school.
The council said it applied for the injunction because of “increasing fears for the safety and wellbeing of the staff, children and parents”.

A statement said: “This is particularly so after the serious escalation of the protests in the week before half-term – including the attendance of very large numbers of people who have no children at the school, many of whom are not from the city.

“This, together with the increasingly unacceptable behaviour of protesters who have disrupted and disturbed the running of the school and the children’s education, has led the council to conclude that the risk of harm to staff, parents and children has become too serious to tolerate.”
The interim injunction creates an exclusion zone around the school and bans them protestors from making offensive comments about school staff on social media.

However, there will be another hearing in court on Monday (June 10) when the protestors will be able to put their arguments to the judge.
Protests have affected a number of schools in Birmingham and were originally sparked over the use of the No Outsiders programme, which teaches about issues of equality and the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

Anderton Park headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson – who has received threatening messages over the issue – closed the school early for half-term last month.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight on Monday (June 3), Ms Hewitt-Clarkson said they had been teaching about the protected characteristics of the Equality Act since 2010.

She added: “There are nine protected characteristics. This isn’t just about LGBT, this is about race, religion, age and all the other protected characteristics.

“We don’t have lesson plans, we don’t have a scheme of work. It’s just part of our ethos. When parents start school we get them to sign to say they understand the ethos of our school.”

As staff and children returned this week the interim injunction was in force. Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: "I'm pleased that common sense has prevailed because children right across Birmingham should be free to attend school safely and without disruption.

“All our schools must be safe spaces and we will not tolerate the on-going intimidation of parents, hard-working school staff and local residents.

"Now hopefully the pupils will be able to continue their education in peace for the remainder of the summer term. We will continue to support the school and its staff and I would urge parents to take this opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue with the school about any concerns they may have."

The National Association of Head Teachers has also attacked the protests. Writing in Headteacher Update’s June edition – due to be published next week (June 13) – general secretary Paul Whiteman said that the protests are “irresponsible” and “should stop”.

He writes: “In Birmingham, it is unpalatable to some people that different kinds of family set-ups are being discussed in front of children. But the Equality Act places a legal obligation on primary schools to talk to pupils about the differences between themselves and their peers.

“This is important because all children have a right to go home to whatever family they have without being forced to question whether their home life is any less loving or safe or proper than their friends’ families just because they look, or sound or seem different.”

Under new statutory relationships education, which comes into force in September 2020, primary schools must teach pupils that families are important and that they can “sometimes look different” and that those differences should be respected. The guidance says that pupils must be taught LGBT content “at a timely point” and that schools must comply with the Equality Act 2010.

Last month, education secretary Damian Hinds emphasised that schools should consult parents over the content of their relationships education lessons but that parents had no power of veto (Headteacher Update, May 2019).

Following the High Court injunction last week, Mr Hinds welcomed the judge’s decision and reiterated his message that parents had no veto on the school curriculum.

He said: "It is not right to protest in front of schools – it is frightening to children and disrespectful to hard-working teachers. This will allow children to return to school and parents to continue peaceful and constructive discussions with staff.

"I support and trust headteachers to make decisions in the interests of their pupils. Parents should share their views and concerns, and schools should listen. However, what is taught and how is ultimately a decision for schools. Consultation does not mean parents have a veto on curriculum content.

"There is no reason why teaching children about the society that we live in and the different types of loving, healthy relationships that exist cannot be done in a way that respects everyone."

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