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Every school to receive backing on relationships teaching – Gavin Williamson

The Education Secretary said pupils, parents and teachers should be able to go to school ‘without any form of intimidation’.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has spoken about the relationships teaching issue which sparked protests at school gates (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has spoken about the relationships teaching issue which sparked protests at school gates (Jonathan Brady/PA)

By Richard Vernalls and Josh Payne, PA

Every single school will get support on teaching relationships education as pupils prepare to return to classrooms for the new term, the Education Secretary has said.

Before the summer holidays, there were high-profile anti-LGBT protests outside primary schools with demonstrators and counter-demonstrators clashing over the teaching of different relationships.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said headteachers should be “able to teach about Britain as it is today”.

We will be there supporting and backing every single school - that's what we have been doing Gavin Williamson

He added the Government has “set out quite clearly” the law and what is expected in delivering the teaching of relationships, ahead of the September 2020’s mandatory introduction.

However, Mr Williamson said he had no plans to visit the headteacher of Birmingham’s Anderton Park Primary School, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, who has previously told of being subjected to abuse during weeks of protests outside her school.

She called in June for Mr Williamson’s predecessor, Damian Hinds, to visit and discuss the current policy on relationships and LGBT education in schools.

Speaking at the time, she said: “The importance of this goes beyond Anderton Park, it goes beyond protests on my pavements – it’s a British law issue.”

Mr Hinds did meet union officials and officers from Birmingham City Council to discuss the issue, and it is understood that Ms Hewitt-Clarkson has not asked Mr Williamson to meet her.

Anderton Park and Parkfield Community Primary schools in Birmingham were the scenes of weeks of noisy protests, with a separate demonstration outside the gates of Nottingham’s Fernwood Primary coming just before schools broke up.

Ms Hewitt-Clarkson had previously warned of the protests spreading without more support for schools, although the Department for Education (DfE) has said it has been working “very closely” with heads on the issue.

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Anderton Park Primary School protests (Jacob King/PA)

At Parkfield school, its No Outsiders equality education programme was suspended in the last term during talks with parents and mediators.

However, in July it was announced a modified version of the programme, which teaches about diversity and difference in modern society, would be taught from the start of the new term in September, after consultation with parents.

Protesters have repeatedly claimed the teaching about different relationships and family backgrounds had not been “age appropriate” and were “over-emphasising a gay ethos”.

LGBT campaigners have branded the demonstrations “homophobic”.

In June, the DfE published guidance encouraging schools to adopt the new curriculum on relationships education from this September, ahead of the mandatory roll-out next year.

Relationships education for primary-age pupils and compulsory relationships and sex education (RSE) for secondary-age pupils in state schools will become compulsory from September 2020.

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Anderton Park head teacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson. (Jacob King/PA)

In some of his first remarks on the subject since being appointed Education Secretary, Mr Williamson said there is no place for protests at school gates.

He said: “Firstly, we shouldn’t be seeing protests outside any schools.

“We want to make sure all pupils, parents and teachers are able to go to those schools freely without any form of intimidation.

“We will be there supporting and backing every single school – that’s what we have been doing.

“The purpose of it is we wanted to make sure every single school is able to teach about Britain as it is today – but also have the flexibility to ensure that it has an understanding of the communities which it operates in.”

Asked if he would meet Ms Hewitt-Clarkson, Mr Williamson said: “What we’re doing is we’ve been very focused in making sure that we deliver financial settlement in terms of every single school across this country.

“We’ve set out quite clearly in terms of legislation and in terms of delivery of sex and relationship education and that’s there for all schools to deliver and will be rolled out over the coming year.”

Again asked whether he would be meeting Anderton Park’s headteacher, he added: “As I said, we’ve made it quite clear as to what is needed to be done.”

PA

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