Michael Gove writes to Catholic Education Service to express concern at a blur between faith and politics over gay marriage

June 25, 2012

The Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, has written to the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales to express his concern that its recent correspondence to Catholic schools on gay marriage blurred the distinction between discussing issues that are a matter of faith and promoting partisan political views.

In April the Catholic Education Service drew criticism after it wrote to all state funded Roman Catholic secondary schools in England and Wales, asking that they draw attention to a recent letter published by senior archbishops that told Catholics it was their “duty” to oppose gay marriage, as well as for schools to draw attention to an online campaign petition opposing civil marriage equality.

In May the Welsh Government subsequently wrote to Welsh Catholic secondary schools to ensure that if they made their pupils aware of the Catholic Education Service’s correspondence that they should make their pupils aware of converse views, implicitly recognising that schools would have fallen fowl of laws preventing the promotion of politically partisan views had they adhered to the Education Service’s advice.

The Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, has now also revealed in a letter to the National Secular Society that Michael Gove has written to the Catholic Education Service to point out that their correspondence on same sex marriage blurred the distinction between discussing issues that are a matter of faith and promoting partisan political views and remind them of the law. Under sections 406 and  407 of  the  Education  Act  1996 schools must ensure that they do not allow the pursuit of partisan political activities for pupils who have not reached the age of 12, and that pupils must be offered opposing political views in order to provide a balanced presentation of issues.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘We welcome that the UK Government has now joined the Welsh Government in reaffirming the law surrounding the promotion of political views. However, a much bigger issue is how schools deal with issues of sexual diversity and how homophobia should be tackled, including in the faith school sector, where it is known to be even worse.

‘The UK Government has stated that tackling bullying, including homophobic bullying, is a key aim, yet we have still to see how its commitment will translate into action. Meanwhile, many staff and pupils in England and Wales continue to have a concealed miserable experience in schools due to homophobia. We therefore urge that both the UK and Welsh Governments use this episode as a prompt for greater action around homophobia throughout the school system.’



St George’s School, a Christian faith school in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, came second in Accord’s annual Inclusivity Award in 2012. The schools earned high praise from the judges for its outstanding and ambitious work in tackling homophobic bullying, which was based in a Christian context of treating everyone with respect and kindness.

Stonewall’s 2007 ‘The School Report‘ showed that two thirds of young gay people at secondary schools have experienced homophobic bullying, but in faith schools that figure rises to three in four. The report also showed that lesbian and gay pupils who attended faith schools were 23% less likely to report bullying than those at non-faith schools.

Page 29 of ‘The Coalition: our programme for Government’ stated “We will help schools tackle bullying in schools, especially homophobic bullying.”

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