Parkfield Community School. | Photo: Google Maps
The UK government school officials under ‘extreme pressure’ to hold LGBTI-inclusivity lessons due to protests against the classes, a chief executive has said.
Hazel Pulley said the Department for Education (DfE) ‘really wanted the protests to stop’ taking place outside Parkfield Community School in Birmingham.
She said that DfE officials made ‘frantic phone calls’ urging the school to suspend the classes.
Pulley also called on new prime minister Boris Johnson to take a lead in supporting schools facing such issues.
Parkfield Community School teaches the No Outsiders program, which teaches students about same-sex relationships and gender identity.
Protests against the classes began early in 2019. After several months of protests, the school temporarily stopped teaching No Outsiders several months later.
A number of local parents opposed the lessons on the grounds that primary school children are too young to learn about LGBTI issues. Some have falsely claimed that the classes teach sex education.
Some of the protestors – who are mostly, but not exclusively, Muslim – have also said that the lessons go against the teachings of Islam.
‘I don’t think this had ever happened in schools in our country before’
At its peak, the school saw hundreds of protestors assembling outside the school gates to protest the classes.
The protests spread to other schools in Birmingham which taught similar LGBTI-inclusivity classes.
Speaking to BBC News, Pulley said she felt ‘extreme isolation’ while dealing with the protests. It was ‘totally on my own to deal with something that was coming at us with great force’, she added.
“We suspended the program because we came under extreme pressure from the DfE […] It occurred on a Wednesday evening before the next protest that was planned for the Thursday morning.
“They wanted the protest to stop and I understand that but the school was doing nothing wrong.
‘I don’t think this had ever happened in schools in our country before where parents would stand outside a school and really shout using megaphones and keep children out,’ Pulley added.
‘It worried me because I felt that it was empowering parents to realize that if you shout and scream outside a school or [there’s] something you don’t agree with, you can stop it, but it also made it look like the school was doing something wrong, which it wasn’t.’
However, representatives from the DfE refutes claims it pressured the school to suspend the No Outsiders classes.
A letter from Schools Minister Nick Gibb to Birmingham MP Jess Phillips states: ‘I am clear that at no point did officials from the department pressure the school into pausing or stopping the No Outsiders program.’
The DfE also released a statement saying: ‘Any suggestion that the dispute should be kept out of the media was absolutely not an attempt to silence the school, but a bid to bring an end to protests, encourage consultation and ensure tensions weren’t further inflamed by sensationalist coverage.’
National debate over teaching LGBTI-inclusivity in schools
The protests outside schools in Birmingham have been making headlines since January.
School officials have spoken about the extreme stress the demonstrations caused both staff and students.
Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, the headteacher of Anderton Park Primary, said she experienced harassment and abuse during the protests.
The UK’s high court later placed a ban on protests taking place outside of the school.
The No Outsiders program was introduced to Parkfield Community School by assistant headteacher Andrew Moffat, who has been widely praised for his work in teaching LGBTI issues. He was awarded an MBE in 2017 and was shortlisted for a global teaching prize earlier this year.
The backlash over LGBTI-inclusivity lessons in Birmingham schools has fuelled a national debate.
A number of senior political figures have expressed their support for including LGBTI-inclusivity lessons in schools’ curriculums. This includes then-Education Secretary Damian Hinds.
Labour MP Angela Eagle has also spoken passionately about the need for LGBTI inclusivity education in schools. Eagle is one of the most senior openly gay politicians in Britain.
The head of the UK’s school watchdog, Ofsted, has also said that LGBTI-inclusivity lessons should be widely taught in schools.
In his cabinet, Prime Minister Johnson has appointed former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson as the new Secretary of Education.