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Charedi Jewish schools advised to consider ‘civil disobedience’ to avoid teaching LGBT inclusive lessons

Independent Charedi Jewish schools wishing to avoid their duty to teach LGBT equality have been advised to consider ‘civil disobedience’ in order to challenge new guidance on how the issue should be taught.

Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for fully LGBT-inclusive education, including Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), and in February 2019 organised an open letter, signed by over 50 prominent religious leaders, urging the Government not to row back on their commitment to LGBT inclusive education in the independent sector – has expressed alarm at the recommendation made in a letter to a Charedi father, Shraga Stern, by his legal advisors. Humanists UK has seen the letter, which also concludes that any attempt by the community to take a legal case on the matter has a ‘low chance of succeeding’.

Earlier this year, Stern wrote to the Department of Education claiming that rules about teaching respect for LGBT people in independent schools like the one his own children attend violate his human rights. Nevertheless, in the latest advice to Stern, it is argued that a legal challenge against new guidance on the Independent School Standards – which states that the ‘curriculum must be designed to encourage respect for other people,’ and pay ‘particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010’ which include sexual orientation and gender reassignment – would be unlikely to succeed.

For this reason, the letter suggests that Charedi schools take a ‘united approach to Ofsted and the DfE’ that involves drafting a policy statement to the effect that, in primary schools, the teaching of LGBT issues is ‘not age-appropriate for pupils in the school and not appropriate in light of the religious background of the pupils in the school.’ At secondary level, a similar statement is suggested, but here it refers only to ‘specified issues in the guidance, including LGBT issues being inappropriate ‘in light of the religious background of pupils’.

The letter goes on to acknowledge that the course of action being recommended ‘[suggests] a level of “civil disobedience”’ but says the statement should be designed to persuade Ofsted and the DfE that, despite appearances to the contrary, the school is actually compliant with the guidance. This is to be done first by stating that the school considers that its curriculum is compliant with the provisions of the Equality Act, and second by referring to a new Government enforcement policy which states that enforcement action is unlikely if schools only fail to meet one or two of the Independent School Standards – although here it is worth noting that the DfE has said that this will depend on the ‘severity of the breaches’ which will include ‘the extent to which the failings put children’s safety at risk’.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘All children have the right to a broad and honest education, which includes inclusion and respect for LGBT people. It is outrageous that religious schools seeking to avoid their duty to provide this are considering “civil disobedience” to deny children this right.

Referring specifically to the advice Mr Copson continued: ‘Schools cannot pretend to be compliant with the Equality Act while simultaneously arguing they should have special dispensation from enforcement of the very same legislation. Ofsted and the DfE should take strong action against any school attempting to use this Alice in Wonderland logic to defend homophobia and deny children the education they need to flourish in modern British society.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

To read our most recent article on LGBT acceptance in the guidance on the Independent School Standards visit: https://humanism.org.uk/2019/05/01/government-dilutes-guidance-on-teaching-respect-for-lgbt-people-in-independent-schools/

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

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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