Civic leaders call for Government action in support of LGBT inclusion in schools

July 14, 2019

A diverse group of 78 civic leaders are urging the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, to provide much greater “moral and regulatory support” for schools promoting acceptance towards people of different backgrounds and characteristics, especially LGBT people. Their call has been made in an open letter that criticises the Government’s “half-hearted” support for schools attacked for promoting LGBT inclusion and for providing relevant guidance for schools that has “been weakly ambiguous at best”.

The letter has been published today by The Independent and follows high profile protests this year directed at some schools in England for teaching about LGBT people, with many complainants objecting that such teaching is religiously, culturally or otherwise inappropriate for the age of pupils. The letter observes that schools promoting acceptance towards LGBT people and those of other characteristics is required under the Public Sector Equality Duty, which it describes as “a vital part of our society’s equality and human rights framework” and frames attacks on these obligations as “ultimately an attack on us all”.

The letter has been organised with the support of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education and the British Muslims for Secular Democracy. It is signed by an array of educationists, civil rights campaigners, and clergy and religious activists from different religions and denominations. Several signatories are based in Birmingham, which has so far witnessed the most intense protests about schools teaching about LGBT people.

Commenting, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ”The Department for Education is continuing to leave it to others to take a lead in defending schools being attacked for promoting acceptance of LGBT people, while it has ignored important opportunities to provide schools with greater regulatory support. This vacuum of leadership provides a worrying signal about its priorities and is leaving some teachers badly exposed. The signatories call on the Department for Education to urgently step up support for schools in this area.”

Chair of the British Muslims for Secular Democracy Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, added “If we truly wish to create a society in which people live free from discrimination and prejudice then all schools must adhere to their duties to promote acceptance between people from different backgrounds. Rather than treating some of these obligations like an awkward legacy from the past or expecting schools to show consideration for those who want schools to edit out LGBT people, the Government should urgently offer schools greater support in undertaking their equality duties. Our equality and human rights framework is under threat and the Department for Education is being found wanting.”

The range and number of religious signatories to the letter presents a particular challenge for the Education Secretary, who has a record of acquiescing to faith justified discrimination. It was announced last month that for the first time in nearly a decade the Department for Education had agreed to support the opening of a faith school that could operate a fully religiously discriminatory admissions policy.

Meanwhile, new statutory Relationships and Sex education guidance that was issued earlier this year fails to require primary schools to mention LGBT people, which would have left schools being attacked for teaching about LGBT people in stronger position. A “Frequently Asked Questions” document which complements the guidance and was published by the Department for Education in April further states that primary schools can teach LGBT content if they consider it “age appropriate”, but do not have to.

Furthermore, new Independent School Standards guidance has also been diluted. An earlier draft in March 2018 specified that it was expected  independent secondary school age pupils know about the protected characteristics listed under the Equality Act (which include sexual orientation and gender reassignment) and encouraged that independent primary school age pupils be taught about how people are different on these grounds.

The final guidance released in April removed these references and instead stated the curriculum “must be designed to encourage respect for other people, with particular regard to the protected characteristics … of which all pupils must be made aware” but only “to the extent that it is considered age appropriate”. In recent years Ofsted has been taking a more consistent line with independent faith schools that ignore LGBT content, work which the new Independent School Standards guidance undermines.

The Department’s use and enthusiasm for the term “age appropriate” in regards to teaching about LGBT content has been criticised as unhelpful and open to misuse. In April the Accord Coalition warned that the implicit notion that schools might otherwise teach LGBT content that was not age appropriate risked breathing “fresh life into the negative legacy of Section 28”. In May a local Birmingham MP who has expressed sympathy with those protesting about schools mentioning LGBT people queried if such teaching was “age appropriate”.

The open letter and its full list of signatories are listed immediately below. If you would like to add your name to this pubic call to the Education Secretary Accord has set up an online facility here.

We are writing to express our concern at the lack of Government support for schools undertaking their legal duties under the Equality Act to promote equality and acceptance between people of different protected characteristics. We urge that robust backing be given in this vital area. We are particularly concerned at the problems some schools and teachers are currently experiencing regarding the promotion of LGBT inclusion.

This is currently highlighted by the nature and extent of the organised opposition to some schools’ provision of the ‘No Outsiders’ programme. The programme advances inclusion on a variety of grounds, but its provision has triggered orchestrated opposition (inflamed and exploited by outside groups) for simply seeking to teach that LGBT people exist and that acceptance of them should be encouraged. Opportunities to provide these and others schools with greater support have been missed and Government guidance has been weakly ambiguous at best.

For example, recent advice regarding Relationships and Sex Education (which will become compulsory in all schools in 2020) states that schools are “enabled and encouraged to cover LGBT content [but] if they consider it age appropriate to do so”. The phrase “age appropriate” is open to wide interpretation, and is repeated in new guidance for independent schools on meeting their obligation to promote respect between people of different protected characteristics. Statements such as these, combined with half-hearted support for schools that are being attacked, has left many teachers exposed.

The requirement  for schools to promote inclusivity between people of different characteristics is a vital part of our society’s equality and human rights framework, and helps us to forge a better society in which all may fully contribute. An attack on this framework is ultimately an attack on us all. The Government must therefore give schools greater moral and regulatory support in advancing these important duties.

    • Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Chair, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
    • The Revd Stephen Terry, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
    • Revd Richard Adfield (CofE)
    • Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (Pastoral Support for LGBT Catholics)
    • Elizabeth Arif Fear, founder of Voice of Salaam
    • Christina Baron, General Synod (Bath & Wells) and Chair of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group
    • Jeff Beatty, Quaker Values in Education Steering Group member
    • Crispin Blunt MP
    • John Bolt, General Secretary, Socialist Educational Association
    • Professor Ted Cantle CBE, Chair of the iCoCo Foundation and national community cohesion and inter-cultural relations expert
    • Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
    • Revd Roger Cornish (United Reformed Church)
    • Revd Jim Corrigall, Unitarian and Free Christian minister
    • Iain Dale, broadcaster and political commentator
    • Drew Dalton, founder of Report Out
    • Shaun Dellenty, founder of Inclusion For All
    • Revd Marie Dove (Methodist)
    • Graeme Duncan, Chief Executive, Right to Succeed
    • Jonathan Emmett, children’s author
    • Dr Maria Exall, Chair of the Trades Union Congress LGBT+ Committee
    • Professor Becky Francis, Director, UCL Institute of Education
    • Revd Canon Richard Franklin (CofE)
    • Revd Canon Jane Fraser (CofE), Manager of the relationships and sex education charity Bodysense
    • The Rt Rev David Gillett, former Anglican Bishop of Bolton
    • Professor A.C. Grayling, philosopher and author
    • Andy Gregg, Chief Executive Officer of ROTA (Race on the Agenda)
    • Baroness Harris of Richmond
    • Savitri Hensman (CofE), equalities adviser in the care sector and writer on Christian social ethics and theology
    • Ruth Hilton, Chair of JAT
    • Rev Ian Howarth, Chair of Birmingham Methodist District
    • Sunny Hundal, journalist and editor
    • Rabbi Margaret Jacobi  (Birmingham Synagogue)
    • Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism
    • Mark Jennett, sexuality and gender equality in schools specialist
    • The Very Revd Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans
    • Revd Richard Jones, Associate Minister, Hereford Diocese
    • Professor Steve Jones, geneticist, science writer and broadcaster
    • Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust
    • Professor Sir David King FRS, academic and policy advisor, including former Chief Scientific Advisor to HM Government
    • Revd Richard Kirker (CofE), LGBTI equality campaigner
    • Hari Kunzru, novelist and journalist
    • The Venerable Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight and Chair, OneBodyOneFaith
    • Revd Anne Lewitt, Minister at the Pulborough URC
    • Naomi Long MLA MEP, Leader of the Alliance Party
    • Matt Mahmood-Ogston, Founder and Trustee, Naz and Matt Foundation
    • Dr Irfan Malik, researcher of the Muslim contribution in the First World War
    • Melian Mansfield, Chair, Campaign for State Education
    • Revd Iain McDonald (United Reformed Church)
    • Loic Menzies, Chief Executive of the Education and Youth ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco
    • Fiona Millar, journalist and education campaigner
    • Rabia Mirza, Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
    • Dr Zemirah Moffat, Quaker Gender and Sexual Diversity Community
    • The Very Revd Bertrand Olivier (Anglican)
    • Dr Farid Panjwani, Associate Professor in Religious Education and Director, Centre for Research and Evaluation in Muslim Education (CREME)
    • Brian Pearce, former Chair of the Buddhist Council of Wales and Buddhist Chaplain to prisons in Wales
    • Martin Pendergast, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality
    • Philip Pullman CBE, novelist
    • Khakan Qureshi, Founder, Finding A Voice
    • Revd Tim Richards (United Reformed Church) Mid Somerset Group
    • Professor Alice Roberts, biological anthropologist, author, broadcaster and President of Humanists UK
    • Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, President of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education and Minister of Maidenhead Synagogue
    • Revd Prof. Christopher Rowland, Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture Emeritus, University of Oxford
    • Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, Director of the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education
    • Professor Sue Sanders, Chair, SCHOOLS OUT UK
    • Elizabeth Slade, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
    • Prof Lord Trevor Smith of Clifton, academic and former Vice Chancellor
    • The Lord Soley
    • Revd Tim Stead (CofE)
    • Ezra Stripe, Hidayah
    • Revd Robert Thompson, Vicar of St Mary with All Souls, Kilburn, and St James, West Hampstead
    • Polly Toynbee, journalist and writer
    • Luke Tryl, Director, New Schools Network
    • Revd Dr Chris Whitney-Cooper, Co-Chair of the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians
    • Ruth Wilde, National Coordinator, Inclusive Church
    • Revd Claire Wilson (CofE)
    • Revd Simon Wilson, Heacham, Norfolk (CofE)
    • The Rt Rev Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham
    • The Revd Dr Simon Woodman, Minister of the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church


The Public Sector Equality Duty was created under the 2010 Equality Act. It requires all those exercising public functions to “have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act; advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it; foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.” The Act lists nine protected characteristics.

Homo, bi and transphobia are found not just to blight not just society but still many schools. In June 2017 the LGBT equality charity Stonewall issued its third five yearly report into the experience of LGBT pupils at British schools. Of LGBT pupils it found:

  • 22% at non-faith schools said staff never challenged homo, bi and transphobic language, rising to 31% of pupils in faith schools
  • only 68% reported that their school said homo and biphobic bullying was wrong (dropping to 57% among faith school pupils)
  • only 41% reported that their school said transphobic bullying was wrong (dropping to 29 % of faith school pupils)

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