On 1 April, the BBC news website reported that 85 Head teachers from Birmingham had met with officials from the Department of Education.
The meeting followed protests by parents in Birmingham about the implementation of the new curriculum in Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) for primary schools. The new curriculum teaches children that there are different kinds of families, including families where the adults are in lesbian or gay relationships.
The BBC quoted an anonymous Head who said: "We feel completely alone here and feel as if we're getting no overt support whatsoever from the government."
The Birmingham Heads are right. The government has failed to support them and that is a disgrace.
The new curriculum is a big step-forward and comes after years of pressure by RSE teachers, school workers and youth workers for compulsory, inclusive and informative sex education for all children, with no ability for parents to opt their children out. The new curriculum makes teaching on relationships and on health, including about puberty and periods, compulsory. The only opt-out is for sections on sexual intercourse.
But this is a weak Tory government, and under pressure to U-turn or drop the policy. Already, Andrea Leadsom (leader of the House of Commons) has said that parents should decide when their children are "exposed" to LGBT+ relationships in RSE lessons and that parents should have a veto over what is taught.
The protests in Birmingham seem to have been started by parents predominantly from the Muslim community, and that angle has been the focus of much of the reporting. However, religious reactionaries of different denominations are determined to stop children learning about LGBT+ families.
The Jewish Weekly has reported (29 March) on the setting up of "Values Foundation for Faith and Families in Education" at a meeting of 50 reactionaries, including MPs, councillors and various religious representatives - a lash up of Jewish and Christian conservatives who are aiming to stop the section of the new RSE curriculum about respecting different families being taught in faith schools.
In the past some on the left have shamefully equivocated on faith schools and other issues pushed by reactionaries in the Muslim community. They have done so on the pretext of standing up to Islamophobia.
Whilst clearly standing against racism and xenophobia, we should not treat people from a Muslim background, or any other group, as a homogenised bloc. We side with progressives within the community, we fight against reactionaries and hierarchical religious leaders within it.
No one will oppose schools being clear and open with the communities they serve about what they are teaching; but we cannot allow parents at a particular school to dictate what is taught to their children or how it is taught.
Education should be widening children’s experiences, not allowing their parents to limit them.
Socialists are for everyone’s right to express their sexuality however they chose, as long as it is amongst consenting adults. We are for children’s right to learn about different sexualities and discover their own.
Part of this is allowing children to see families that look like their own, or showing them that they can, in the future, choose to have a different type of family. LGBT+ people are sorely under-represented in children’s literature and in schools. We should fight for them to be made much more visible.