With parents up in arms over government plans to overhaul relationships and sex education in schools, Faisal Bodi analyses how the LGBT “Trojan Horse” is rapidly infiltrating our schools
The sight of agitated Muslim parents protesting outside inner city schools is one with which most of us are unwelcomingly familiar. Whether it’s over the right to wear religious attire or a purge of Muslim governors under the pretext of “extremism”, the image presented of us as reactionaries stubbornly pushing back against the tide of enlightened western progress invariably overshadows the legitimate concerns we hold. With the introduction of an aggressive social engineering programme epitomised by the Prevent anti-extremism strategy and the so-called Trojan Horse affair, the state has made clear its intention to drag Muslims, kicking and screaming if necessary, down the road of secular liberalism.
The latest flashpoint centres around the sensitive issue of sex and relationship education. Parents at the Parkfield Community school in Birmingham, a primary whose roll is 98% Muslim, have objected to a programme run by the openly gay deputy head teacher Andrew Moffatt which pushes a LGBT agenda on a community whose religious ethos is totally at odds with it. Under the “No Outsiders” programme drawn up by Moffatt himself, primary schoolchildren are introduced to questions of sexuality through stories about same-sex relationships and marriages. “No Outsiders” asks children to explore different identities, accept homosexuality as morally correct, and states that “five-year-olds need to be taught that gay men, lesbian women, bisexual and trans people exist.”
Parents at the school maintain that they have never been consulted and only found out about the programme after their children mentioned it. According to them, children are coming home and showing signs of confusion over gender identity. One four-year-old child returned home and reported that her teacher had said, ‘We can be a boy or a girl’ and ‘wear boy’s clothes or girl’s clothes’. Another told her mother that she learned that ‘boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls.’” Moffatt is also reported to have told one class that “it is OK to be gay in all religions,” and explained that “he was gay and a Christian, and that they could be gay or lesbian and be Muslim.”
Although 400 Parkfield parents signed a petition asking for ‘No Outsiders’ to be removed from the curriculum, the school initially said it had no intention of changing its teaching. It was only after an overwhelming majority of parents kept their children away from school in protest on the first Friday of March that the school authorities relented, eventually saying they would suspend “No Outsiders” indefinitely until a resolution is reached with parents.
Moffatt is no stranger to controversy. A long-time campaigner for the normalisation of homosexuality, he was forced to resign from another primary school in the city, Chilwell Croft Academy, in 2014, after Christian and Muslims parents complained that his educational resource, a collection of books titled Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools (CHIPS), was used in literacy lessons for 10 and 11-year-olds. Moffatt’s choice to return to work across the city in an exclusively Muslim school was not accidental. In 2016 he told the Guardian that his aim was to increase acceptance of LGBT issues in challenging communities. “There was no point in going to an area where it would be an easy task. I had to go where I might meet the same challenges in order to find a different way to meet them. I was determined to make LGBT equality a reality in any community.”
Moffatt’s dogged determination is a striking feature of the LGBT lobby as a whole. Britain’s most prominent LGBT campaign group, Stonewall, now works with over 1500 schools across the UK in promoting wider acceptance of LGBT practices and people. It has never made any secret of its desire to effect cultural and attitudinal change. Stonewall’s philosophy is that LGBT relationships are intrinsically good and equal to heterosexual relationships. Its campaigning has led to changes in legislation and policy that have accelerated the normalisation of LGBT, the biggest change coming in 2003 when the ban on intentionally promoting homosexuality (Section 28 amendment to the Local Government Act) was repealed.
Currently schools are under no obligation to promote LGBT but the schools watchdog OFSTED is already acting as a spearhead for policy changes set to come into force next year that will entrench LGBT in the education system. At present OFSTED inspectors at both primary and secondary level are tasked, inter alia, with finding out if children have had any lessons about same-sex families and whether pupils who consider themselves transgender feel safe and free from bullying. OFSTED’s current head of corporate strategy, Luke Tryl was previously Head of Education at Stonewall and a special advisor to the Department for Education. Openly homosexual and Christian, he believes there should be no restrictions on religions teaching the tenets of their faith. “If they say, ‘In our religion we do not condone gay relationships’, or whatever, they should be able to. As long as they say, ‘But under British law, gay marriage is allowed,’” he told Schoolsweek last November.
That position, however, seems to be at variance with OFSTED’s inspection regime which actively tries to seek out anti-LGBT views amongst teachers and pupils and mark down schools for not conforming to the emergent orthodoxy. In recent years Christian and Jewish schools which were previously classed as good or outstanding have been downgraded on account of their failure to teach children explicitly about issues such as sexual orientation and gender re-assignment. In the case of Beis Yaakov, an orthodox Jewish all-girls primary school in Salford which scored outstanding on every other measure, its failure to teach these issues was enough for OFSTED to grade it as “failing” in 2014 and put it into special measures. Only after the school had amended its PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic education) classes to include discussions of homosexuality and transgender issues was it returned to a “good” grading. Another orthodox Haredi Jewish school in north London, Vishnitz Girls School, was downgraded from “good” in 2013 to “inadequate” in 2017, with one of the reasons cited being its failure to ensure that the PSHE curriculum promotes respect for sexual orientation and gender reassignment. The pressure to stay on the right side of OFSTED has even led to one secondary Muslim girls’ school in the north west of England and many schools with majority Muslim pupils signing up to Stonewall’s LGBT training programmes.
Predictably, the government’s obvious determination to normalise and legitimise LGBT through the education system has come up against the equally tenacious will of parents. LGBT aside, many parents feel that school-age children are too young to be taught about sex and relationships full stop. A common refrain from parents is that such teaching sexualises children at a delicate age when we should be protecting their innocence, more so in an environment characterised by the proliferation of pornography and sexual imagery. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that homophobic bullying, the oft-stated justification for introducing LGBT issues to children, actually exists at primary school level to a degree that would necessitate state intervention on this scale. “What incidents of homophobic or transgender bullying have occurred that merit such a curricular intervention? What horrors have occurred that would warrant teachers explicitly teaching primary school-aged children about homosexual relationships and transgender identity? Do they have evidence that, without programmes like No Outsiders, children would be full of hate, tearing into anyone who was different to themselves?”, wrote Alka Seghal Cuthbert in Spiked.
The strength of parental feelings on the issue came through in a government stakeholder engagement process held between November 2017 – March 2018 as a prelude to its planned sex education shake-up. The consultation received an unprecedented 23,000 submissions, the vast majority of them from parents, with Muslims and Jews said to be over-represented in the responses. According to the limited information released by the government, only a small proportion of respondents favoured teaching about sexual identity at primary level with around half of all respondents saying that within the context of relationships education they would prefer schools to teach about families and respect.
Yet despite that the government has proposed making relationships education compulsory and there is also no assurance that sex education would not be delivered within science lessons. So while parents will retain their right to withdraw children from sex education classes they may find themselves disarmed when it comes to relationships education and teaching about sex in other subjects in the curriculum that are compulsory. Naturally, there is concern that the LGBT agenda will be smuggled into primary schools in the face of the government’s own compelling evidence that this is not something parents want. (Note the irony in the government being prepared to ignore parents’ concerns about the sexualisation of children whilst tacitly condoning OFSTED head Amanda Speilman’s ridiculous assertion that the hijab could be seen as a sign that young Muslim girls were being sexualised). Parents of secondary school pupils will also lose the right to withdraw their children from relationships education although they will be able to remove them from sex education up to and until three terms before they turn 16. However, even then parents’ wishes can be overruled by the headteacher if he or she decides it is in the pupil’s best interests.
These and other proposals were recently opened up for public consultation with a view to a final policy being drawn up later this year ready for introduction in 2020. But if the government’s LGBT advice for independent schools is anything to go by the future looks bleak. Although independent schools are exempt from the rules governing maintained schools (those funded by the government) the DfE has nevertheless published advice which requires them to teach same-sex relationships and gender reassignment. Even primary school children should be “aware of the ways in which people can be different and be respectful of those differences”, says the draft advice to independent schools (a consultation on the draft advice has recently closed and the DfE is currently considering responses).
Challenging the government
One Jewish father has already commenced a legal action against the DfE on the basis that the requirement violates the European Convention on Human Right’s freedom of religion guarantees as schools will no longer being permitted to say homosexuality is a sin in line with religious beliefs. Lawyers for Shraga Stern, the director of a construction firm whose children attend a London independent school, made the allegations in a letter to Education Secretary Damian Hinds MP and Education Minister Nick Gibb MP. Stern says the government’s advice that LGBT lifestyles are “equally valid” “goes to the heart of the ethical worldview taught by a faith school. Belief in God and in a religious way of life distinguishes between action that is morally good and action that is sin….The Draft Advice goes beyond requiring toleration and in effect challenges the very essence of religious belief,” says the letter. At other Jewish independent schools, parents have even withdrawn consent for OFSTED inspectors to talk to their children about personal development, safeguarding issues or anti-bullying policies because they fear they will be used as a pretext to raise LGBT issues.
OFSTED, however, seems intent on driving through its intended agenda telling the Observer in January 2019: “Most faith schools – state and independent – see no contradiction between teaching the tenets of their faith and the legal requirement to promote British values, including respect for democracy and the rule of law or to encourage respect for people with different characteristics such as those of a different faith, sexual orientation or race. “However, for the small minority who will not comply with the law, it is Ofsted’s duty to report those failings so that action can be taken to improve or close these schools.”
This policy marks a clear departure from previous requirements. Until recently, equalities advice for maintained schools from the Department for Education issued in 2014 made it clear that “it should not be unlawful for a teacher in any school to express personal views on sexual orientation provided that it is done in an appropriate manner and context”. So in theory, it was perfectly acceptable for a teacher to spell out a morally based case against same-sex or extra-marital relationships. However in 2017 the government revised its view citing recent European case law and the European Convention of Human Rights as a justification. Under the Equalities Act 2010, it is unlawful for any education provider to discriminate between pupils on grounds of these protected characteristics: disability, race, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, and sex. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission which enforces the Act, in what represents a complete about-turn from the government’s previous position, it would now not only be unlawful for schools to reject a pupil for admission on the basis that he/she was homosexual but also if a schoolteacher was to describe homosexuality as ‘unnatural’ or cover only heterosexual relationships in a lesson.
That seems to be a very latitudinous interpretation of legislation which was drafted to ensure equality of opportunity and treatment and not to socially engineer an acceptance of a particular sexual identity or lifestyle. It reinforces a widely-held view that equalities legislation is being used as a Trojan horse to smuggle into education an LGBT agenda that is all about fostering the acceptance of particular, minority sexual behaviours and identities.
“Queering” the curriculum
Even if the government now changes tack and retains the right of parents to remove their children from all relationships and sex education, it may not be enough to stop children being taught to see LGBT behaviour as acceptable. The LGBT locomotive is already steaming through the education system and integrating LGBT into all subject areas. Last year Stonewall published a guide for secondary schools, “Creating an LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum”, designed to show them how to easily and naturally integrate LGBT issues into their curricula. Sponsored by the education publisher Pearson, the guide says schools are unable to fulfil their duty to teach tolerance and diversity without reference to LGBT. “Under the Equality Duty, all schools should take proactive steps to promote respect and understanding of different groups of people, including LGBT people. All schools are also required to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of pupils and British values, such as a mutual respect and tolerance; this is something that Ofsted looks at across all schools. This is impossible to do without reflecting the experiences of LGBT people, who exist in all walks of life.”
So, in the manipulative hands of the LGBT lobby the Equalities Act, an anti-discrimination tool, has been turned into an official duty on everyone to affirm the acceptability of LGBT behaviours/identities even if they consider them to be morally reprehensible. Accepting this logic one would be justified in asking why the state is not also pushing for schools to promote the beliefs of faith groups as it could be similarly argued that since religion is also a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act it is impossible to teach tolerance and mutual respect without affirming that they are correct.
The Stonewall guide is a real eye-opener and reveals the extent to which the LGBT agenda stands to become woven into the fabric of secondary school teaching. In English for example it suggests studying fiction by LGBT authors, discussing how their LGBT identity may have influenced their writing and advises teachers to introduce LGBT themes in discussions about representation in literatures. Critics have suggested that this undermines educational standards as teachers will be required to choose books not on the basis of their literary qualities but whether they represent LGBT themes. Even in subjects such as maths where opportunities to introduce LGBT themes would appear less obvious, it says that teachers should “take opportunities to mention LGBT people”, and “include references to different family structures”. In science it asks teachers to use language and examples that include LGBT people when setting questions. “For example, ‘two women would like to have a baby together, and the doctor recommends they use In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF)’.”
Campaigners like Moffatt have also started weaving LGBT acceptance into the warp and woof of school life. The ‘No Outsiders’ programme is designed to eliminate the possibility of parents sidestepping LGBT tuition by opting for their children to removed from SRE and RE lessons. Moffatt is clear that withdrawal from “No Outsiders” is not permitted as it draws in a range of issues relating diversity: “The law says you can remove your child from RE or sex education lessons but this is a lesson celebrating diversity. The lessons are not one-off sessions; the ethos is all around the school. It is not possible to shield children from our school ethos,” he writes.
What can we do?
Muslim educational campaigners are not unaware of the dangers. “One of the major misunderstandings is that the LGBT agenda is being fed solely through relationships education and sex education,” explains Yusuf Patel who runs the website sreislamic.org, a resource to help parents navigate the rapidly changing landscape. “Since homosexual marriages were legalised in 2014 schools have had an obligation to teach about it in and in a cross-curricular way. However, what is actually happening goes beyond teaching that same-sex marriage is legal to actively proselytising and saying it is acceptable to be gay or to explore that identity.” Patel believes that instead of being cowed by the powerful LGBT lobby and its supporters in government, people of faith should be developing alternative narratives within the public space that are faithful to their religious values.
Given the direction of travel and the constraints presented by PREVENT, which has seen Muslim schoolchildren and parents collared by anti-extremism officials for expressing orthodox religious views, this is easier said than done but for Patel there is no other option. “Our community should be facing up to the challenge and taking OFSTED and the government to court. Muslim parents should be telling school heads and governors that they are prepared to withdraw their pupils from lessons. We should not shy away from telling heads that either they work with us or like the parents at Parkfield we will protest outside schools”.
That’s also the view taken by StopRSE (stoprse.com), an online campaign set up to inform parents of the changes happening to sex and relationship education. It takes an unapologetically uncompromising stance on what it calls an insidious, ideologically driven agenda to push acceptance of LGBT. “This ‘queering’ and ‘re-gendering’ of society is being pushed by a dangerous ideology as the physical, psychological and spiritual damage that can be caused to children who are encouraged to transgender is immense. Teaching such ideas to children is tantamount to child abuse and should have no part in a school curriculum….” states a model letter designed for parents to send to their MPs.
Kate Godfrey, who runs the website, is urging parents to start talking to their schools and children. “Parents are allowed to get involved in policy development so they should be engaged in deciding what their children will be taught,” she says. “Secondly parents should also be talking to their children and teaching them about LGBT from an Islamic perspective. They should be creating a close bond with them so that they can become the trusted source that their children go to for this information”.
The scenes outside Parkfield Community School seem to be a glimpse into what to expect on a national level over the coming months. Not only is the government trampling on parental rights enshrined in international conventions on educating their children in line with religious beliefs but it is also willfully violating the very national legislation (Equalities Act) it claims to be upholding by giving precedence to one protected characteristic (sexual orientation) over another (religion). As the parents in Parkfield have repeatedly stated, they do not have any objections to their children being told that some people choose to be LGBT and that is their choice. However, that does not mean they should be compelled to affirm that those identities and behaviours are right. Tolerance and respect for an LGBT individual does not necessarily mean one has to approve of his/her beliefs and practices. Nor does it follow that if you consider homosexuality to be wrong you are homophobic (or will grow up to be so) any more than it follows that you are Islamophobic if you don’t believe in Islam.
Belatedly, Muslim leaders and parents are rising to the challenge. Imams have sent out messages on social media and organised lectures warning of the dangers inherent in the government’s proposals. Hizb ut-Tahrir has been particularly vocal on the issue organising lectures around the country and handing out information leaflets. SreIslamic organised a national day of action on 22 February 2019 on which mosques sent postcards to the DfE urging it to protect the parental right to withdraw their children from those lessons where sex or relationships education is taught. Beyond schools there is a nagging fear that this is the thin end of a wedge that will also eventually also take in private madrasas (Islamic religious schools). In 2015 then PM David Cameron spoke of the need to bring madrasas under state regulation and ban teaching that was deemed to be incompatible with so-called fundamental British values. With what is happening in schools it’s not a huge leap to imagine a future in which madrasas are also prohibited from teaching that homosexuality is wrong.
Faisal Bodi is the IHRC’s press officer. He has worked as a journalist in both the print and broadcast media specialising in Muslim affairs. During a journalistic career spanning some 15 years Faisal wrote extensively for the Guardian and also worked for the BBC and Aljazeera.