Accord challenges Government to support LGBT visibility in independent schools

July 17, 2019

The Accord Coalition has urged the Government to offer its support for a finding by Ofsted that an independent faith school is failing the statutory Independent School Standards Regulations for refusing to teach Year 7 pupils about LGBT people. The conclusion has been made in an inspection report published yesterday into the Charedi Wiznitz Cheder School, in North London.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Reverend Stephen Terry, said ‘Ofsted’s insistence that pupils of secondary school age should know about LGBT people is entirely in keeping with upholding schools’ legal obligations, and is in marked contrast to the weak and contradictory signals that central government has been sending out in recent guidance about schools’ teaching in this area.’

‘We therefore urge the Department for Education to provide clear and unambiguous support for Ofsted’s view that secondary school age pupils should be aware LGBT people exist and encouraged to accept them. This case is an important litmus test about how seriously LGBT inclusion in schools is to be taken.’

Ofsted’s inspection follows publication in April of Department for Education guidance on the Independent School Standards. A draft version of the guidance published in March 2018 specified that independent secondary school age pupils were expected to 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.

However, the final guidance released in April 2019 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’. Accord has criticised the Department’s repeated use of the term ‘age appropriate’ in regards to teaching about LGBT content and warned 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.’

Ofsted’s report observes that Wiznitz Cheder School ‘leaders point out that Department for Education (DfE) guidance suggests that it is for leaders to decide when it is age-appropriate to raise the protected characteristics with pupils. However, secondary schools are expected to make pupils aware of these issues. Despite this, leaders are clear that making pupils aware of sexual orientation and gender reassignment in Year 7 goes against the school’s Orthodox Jewish ethos. Without some simple changes, the school will continue to fail to meet these requirements.’ (p1/2)

Earlier this week 78 civic leaders civic leaders sent an open letter urging the Education Secretary to provide much greater “moral and regulatory support” for schools promoting acceptance towards LGBT people. The letter was organised with the support of the Accord Coalition and British Muslims for Secular Democracy.

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