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Michael Gove ‘wrong’ that ‘faith’ schools did not discriminate against gay pupils

Update: On 22 February we learned that the quote from Michael Gove in the Observer article was somewhat taken out of context. The full quote shows that Mr Gove does appreciate that delivery of the curriculum is covered by the Equality Act 2010. In light of this, we wish to retract our comment below that Mr Gove had got this point wrong.

However, we are still concerned that Mr Gove’s full response demonstrates insufficient pro-activeness on the part of his Department in tackling this important issue.

Original story:

Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove is ‘wrong’ that Roman Catholic schools in Lancashire did not discriminate against homosexual pupils, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has said today.

At the weekend it was reported in the Guardian that the Trades Union Congress (TUC) had challenged Mr Gove about homophobic material that had been distributed at the schools in 2010. Michael Gove responded that:

The education provisions of the Equality Act 2010 which prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their protected characteristics (including their sexual orientation) do not extend to the content of the curriculum. Any materials used in sex and relationship education lessons, therefore, will not be subject to the discrimination provisions of the act.

The incident mirrors a recent occurrence at the Jewish Free School (JFS), which apparently presented to pupils a website on ‘curing gays’.

BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘Michael Gove is right that the content of the curriculum is exempt from the Equality Act. However, ultimately he is wrong because how material is delivered is not exempt.

‘The distinction between content and delivery was made on purpose and does make sense – for example, certainly schools should not be banned from using anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda as teaching materials. However, the teacher must present the materials in such a way as to make clear that anti-Semitism is not an acceptable view, and put the propaganda in its proper historical context.

‘Equally, in this case, it could be okay for the teachers to present homophobic material, so long as the delivery is in a manner as to explain why these views are unacceptable – this does not appear to have happened here. In fact, one could seriously question the educational merit of presenting this material to pupils in the first place. This is why Mr Gove has got things wrong.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read section 89 of the Equality Act 2010, which exempts content of curriculum: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/89

Read section 89’s explanatory notes, which make clear that delivery is not exempt: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/notes/division/3/6/1/6

Read pages 15-16 of the Equality Act 2010 Advice for School Leaders, School Staff, Governing Bodies and Local Authorities, on sexual orientation and religion and belief, which in the BHA’s opinion is not sufficiently clear on this matter: http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/e/equality%20act%20guidance%20december%202011.pdf

Read page 3 of the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales’s equally ambiguous Equality Act 2010 – Guidance Note, on curriculum: http://www.cesew.org.uk/temp/EQUALITYspACTsp2010sp%96spGUIDANCEspNOTEspPROVISIONSspRELATINGspTOspSCHOOLSspWITHspAspRELIGIOUSspCHARACTER.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s work on Sex and Relationships Education:https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/sex-and-relationships-education

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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