More than 50 prominent religion and belief leaders, educationists, and LGBT rights advocates have joined forces to write an open letter urging the Secretary of State for Education not to dilute draft guidance for independent schools on teaching respect for LGBT people.
The letter, which includes signatories from LGBT groups, representatives of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and humanist groups, and independent school and union leaders, warns of significant safeguarding risks if the guidance is watered down, such as increased bullying of LGBT pupils, and the risk of schools fostering a culture of discrimination and inequality.
The letter has been written in response to reports that the Department for Education may change proposed advice for independent schools as part of the new guidance on Independent School Standards. The draft guidance that was consulted on says that independent schools will be required to teach respect for LGBT people, but the move could allow some schools to avoid teaching LGBT acceptance altogether, on grounds of religious belief.
The letter has been jointly organised by Humanists UK, Sex Education Forum, and the Accord Coalition for inclusive education. Humanists UK has also created a portal through which individuals can add their name to the letter digitally.
The Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union and the Chief Executive of the Independent School Association have also signed the letter which will be sent to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds. Other signatories include the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National Aids Trust, Faith Matters, and British Muslims for Secular Democracy.
The letter states that any dilution of the guidance ‘poses a significant safeguarding risk to LGBT young people, who are still subject to significant levels of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying.’ The signatories add, ‘Challenging LGBT discrimination in school lessons and in everyday school life is fundamental to fostering equality at school and in wider society. This teaching should take place at both primary and secondary level, to stem the development of anti-LGBT prejudice and to support LGBT people in the school community.’
The letter also cautions that ‘While it is possible for schools to consider issues from a range of religion or belief perspectives, fundamentally all schools, including those with a religious character, must provide lessons that inform young people of their rights, and promote a culture of inclusion and acceptance of diversity.’
The signatories urge the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that, irrespective of the type of school they attend, all children are supported and allowed to thrive through education that actively promotes respect and LGBT acceptance.
Encouraging respect for LGBT people is a requirement of the existing Independent School Standards and preventing discrimination is a requirement of the Equality Act 2010, and faith schools are not exempt from these provisions.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘There is widespread support for LGBT inclusion in schools and it is imperative that LGBT lessons in independent schools are not diluted out of fear that it could offend some religious groups. Providing an inclusive education for all pupils, including LGBT students, so that they can learn and develop in freedom, must be the priority for schools and we urge the Department against the watering down of its draft proposals.’
Chair of the Sex Education Forum Lynnette Smith said: ‘It is largely through education we are seeing prejudice to LGBT people melting away. Children should all be able to ask questions and clarify thoughts and feelings in safe school environments that promote respect for others. But all schools must be held to account. Leaders need to keep up with children and provide the inclusive education they expect and deserve.’
Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education the Reverend Stephen Terry said: ‘If LGBT people are to live free from discrimination, stigma or prejudice then schools should not be settings where LGBT bullying still takes place, but actively promote inclusivity on these grounds. The letter demonstrates the wide body of support in favour of ensuring this. The Government must not now go back on earlier commitments and cave in to those who wish schools to discriminate against or marginalise LGBT people.’
The full letter and list of signatories is below:
‘As members or leaders of religion and belief groups, educationalists, campaigners and school leaders, we are concerned by reports that the Department for Education is planning to dilute the advice it publishes on the Independent School Standards to no longer stipulate that all independent schools must teach respect for LGBT people.
‘This poses a significant safeguarding risk to LGBT young people, who are still subject to significant levels of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying. Research shows that 45 percent of LGBT pupils are subject to bullying because of their identity, and the majority hear discriminatory language in school. Challenging LGBT discrimination in school lessons and in everyday school life is fundamental to fostering equality at school and in wider society. This teaching should take place at both primary and secondary level, to stem the development of anti-LGBT prejudice and to support LGBT people in the school community.
It’s also important to recognise that being LGBT and having a religion are not mutually exclusive. LGBT people are members of all communities, across religions and non-religious worldviews. While it is possible for schools to consider issues from a range of religion or belief perspectives, fundamentally all schools, including those with a religious character, must provide lessons that inform young people of their rights, and promote a culture of inclusion and acceptance of diversity.
That’s why we urge the Secretary of State to ensure that, irrespective of the type of school they attend, all children are supported and allowed to thrive through education that actively promotes respect and encourages LGBT acceptance.’
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
Lynnette Smith, Chair, Sex Education Forum
The Revd Stephen Terry, Chair, Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, The National Education Union
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary, The National Education Union
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, National Aids Trust
Ian Green, Chief Executive Officer, Terrence Higgins Trust
Neil Roskilly, Chief Executive Officer, The Independent Schools Association
The Reverend Jane Fraser, Manager of the relations and sex education charity, Bodysense
Professor Becky Francis, Director, UCL Institute of Education
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism
Rabbi Danny Rich, Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism
The Rt Rev David Gillett, Former Anglican Bishop of Bolton
Reverend Heston Groenewald, Vicar, All Hallows Church, Leeds
Rabbi Margaret Jacobi, Birmingham Synagogue
The Very Revd Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans
Revd Richard Jones, Associate Minister, Hereford Diocese
The Revd Canon Peter Leonard, Chair of OneBodyOneFaith and Acting Dean and Canon Chancellor of Portsmouth Cathedral
Revd Iain McDonald, United Reformed Church
The Very Revd Bertrand Olivier, Church of England
Reverend Professor Michael J Reiss, UCL Institute of Education and Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Education Committee 2014/15 Personal, Social and Health Education Inquiry
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Maidenhead Synagogue
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah
Revd Tim Stead, Church of England
Revd Robert Thompson, Church of England
Revd Tony Whatmough, Team Rector, Headingly Team Ministry
Revd Claire Wilson, Church of England
Revd Simon Wilson, Church of England
Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
Paul Bishop, Assistant Head Teacher and Director of Sixth Form, Saint Cecilia’s Church of England School
Luke Dowding, Co-Director, Affirm
Jayne Ozanne, Director, Ozanne Foundation
Hidayah, LGBTQI+ Muslims
Ruth Hilton, Chair, JAT
Rabia Mirza, Director of Media, Engagement and Lobbying, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Fiyaz Mughal, Director, Faith Matters
Brian Pearce, former Buddhist Chaplain to prisons in Wales
Martin Pendergast, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality
Dawn Savidge, Co-Director, Affirm
Martin Stears-Handscomb, Co-Chair, Accepting Evangelicals
Simon Barrow, Director, Ekklesia
Melissa Benn, writer and campaigner
Dr Nuala Burgess, Chair, Comprehensive Future
Tracey Byrne, Chief Executive, OneBodyOneFaith
Shaun Dellenty, Founder, Inclusion For All
Natasha Devon MBE, mental health campaigner
Martin Doré, Chair, Socialist Educational Association
Dr Eleanor Formby, Reader in Sociology and Youth Studies, Sheffield Hallam University
Professor Jonathan Glazzard, Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University
John Bolt, General Secretary, Socialist Educational Association
Mark Jennett, sexuality and gender equality in schools specialist
Naomi Long MLA, Leader, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Loic Menzies, Chief Executive of the education think tank, LKMco
Alison Ryan, Steering Committee Member, Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7324 3078.
You can add your name to the open letter using Humanists UK’s petition page: https://humanism.org.uk/what-you-can-do-to-help/support-tolerance-over-hate-in-schools/
About Humanists UK
At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.
About Sex Education Forum
Established in 1987, the Sex Education Forum is a group of partners working together to achieve quality relationships and sex education (RSE) for all children and young people. Our membership for schools and other educators serves to connect organisations and individuals with the latest practice, research and policy information.
About the Accord Coalition
The Accord Coalition was launched in 2008 and brings together religious and non-religious organisations who want state funded schools to be made open and suitable to all, regardless of people or their family’s religious or non-religious beliefs. It campaigns to end religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions, and for all state funded schools to provide PSHE, along with assemblies and Religious Education that boost mutual understanding between those of different beliefs and backgrounds. http://accordcoalition.org.uk/