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Government dilutes guidance on teaching respect for LGBT people in independent schools

The UK Government has diluted guidance outlining how independent schools in England are expected to teach respect for LGBT people. In a draft version of the document, published in March 2018, the Government said it ‘would expect children of secondary school age to know about the protected characteristics’ – which include sexual orientation and gender reassignment alongside age, disability, sex, race, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity – as well as ‘understand the ways that people can be different and respect people who are different in those ways.’

However, the new guidance, published today, instead states that, while the curriculum ‘must be designed to encourage respect for other people, with particular regard to the protected characteristics… of which all pupils must be made aware’, this will only apply ‘to the extent that it is considered age appropriate’. Thus providing schools that are disinclined to teach about LGBT people, particularly those with a faith ethos, with a potential loophole by which to avoid covering this material.

In a further change, the new guidance states that, although a school that ‘teaches pupils that the parties to [same-sex] marriage do not merit the protection which the legal status of marriage or civil partnership affords in law’ would not meet the independent school standards, ‘teaching that the faith position of the school is that marriage is only between a man and a woman is acceptable.’ The previous guidance said only that schools would fail this standard if they suggested ‘that same-sex marriages or civil partnerships should not be recognised as being lawful unions under civil law.’

In February, Humanists UK co-organised an open letter, signed by more than 50 prominent religious leaders, humanists, educationalists, and LGBT rights advocates, urging the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, to resist pressure from hard-line religious groups, including proponents of ultra-orthodox Charedi Jewish schools, to row back on their commitment to LGBT inclusive education in the independent sector.

The letter, which was published in the Guardian, stated that 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.’ It went on to say that ‘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.’  

Humanists UK Education Campaign Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘We are appalled to learn that, despite the best efforts of a broad cross-section of educationalists, experts and activists including representatives of religious and humanist groups, the Government has caved in to the demands of a handful of hard-line religious activists.

‘LGBT people come from all walks of life, including closed religious groups. A failure to teach acceptance for this fact and that it is OK to be different will compound prejudice and discrimination, and be devastating for the mental health and wellbeing of LGBT young people.

‘This is not about teaching children inappropriate, sexualised content – it is about making sure that everyone is respected and valued. The Government must stop allowing religious hardliners using the term “age appropriate” as a fig leaf to cover their bigotry and homophobia, and ensure that all children and young people are given the LGBT-inclusive education they deserve.’

NOTES

For more information, contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725110860.

To read our latest article on LGBT content in RSE lessons, visit:

https://humanism.org.uk/2019/04/10/schools-get-to-decide-about-lgbt-content-in-rse-lessons-not-parents-says-hinds/

To read our open letter on LGBT inclusion, visit:

https://humanism.org.uk/2019/02/11/educationists-and-religion-and-belief-leaders-warn-of-increased-bullying-if-lgbt-guidance-is-diluted/

For more information on our work on relationships and sex education, visit https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education

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.

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