Five more Birmingham schools have suspended teaching the award winning ‘No Outsiders’ equality and LGBT rights programme amid mounting pressure from parents and activists who want it scrapped.
The Leigh Trust, which runs five city primaries, has dropped the programme until after Ramadan in June while it consults with parents.
The trust schools involved are Leigh Primary School, Alston Primary School, Marlborough Junior, Marlborough Infants and Wyndcliff Primary School.
Meanwhile, an uneasy truce between protesting parents and Parkfield School in Saltley has come to an end, with fresh protests due tomorrow at the school gates.
The new wave of protests and suspension of No Outsiders at more schools marks a significant escalation amid concerns the campaign is being fuelled by homophobia and infiltrated by extremists looking to exploit the parents’ concerns.
Today Mohammed Aikhlaq, one of the trust’s directors and a Labour city councillor representing Ward End, confirmed the programme was being suspended for now.
“We sent letters to parents saying we will hold a board meeting to look at the issue after Ramadan and will be consulting with them about what is in the programme but it is on hold until then.”
“Nobody is against LGBT rights but there are concerns about telling four and five year olds about these issues,” he said.
“It needs to be age appropriate and they are concerned about that.”
The programme has been run in the schools for three years. “When it was introduced we fully consulted with parents. We feel it’s right to do that again with a new group of parents.
“I do not feel we are being homophobic, it’s a matter of sharing information with parents.”
The letter issued to parents
Protests are due to start again tomorrow outside the Parkfield Community School, bringing an end to an uneasy truce designed to help parents and staff resolve the issue.
MPs Liam Byrne and Shabana Mahmood, aided by the region’s schools commissioner, LGBT campaigners and Birmingham City Council, had brokered peace talks between parents and the school, which subsequently promised to temporarily halt lessons until resolution was reached.
Photos from a meeting over a curry between LGBT activists and protestors were posted on social media, triggering hopes that a solution was imminent.
However, it appears that truce is now over.
Parkfield parents, using the hashtags #Stop #NoOutsiders , posted on the Alum Rock Community Forum facebook page that a new protest would take place at the school gates tomorrow morning. (Thursday March 21st)
Parkfield campaigner Ahmid Ahmed had earlier told the BBC his community was “respectful and tolerant” of British values but now felt victimised.
He claimed parents who had protested were “effectively seen as homophobes in the wider community”.
“Fundamentally the issue we have with No Outsiders is that it is changing our children’s moral position on family values on sexuality and we are a traditional community.
“Morally we do not accept homosexuality as a valid sexual relationship to have. It’s not about being homophobic… that’s like saying, if you don’t believe in Islam, you’re Islamophobic.”
That drew a critical reaction from the city council’s deputy leader Brigid Jones, who tweeted:
“Saying ‘morally we don’t accept homosexuality as a valid sexual relationship’ is homophobia. Cheering on someone who stands outside a school with a megaphone shouting that children aren’t safe with a gay teacher is homophobia. I do not understand how there is ambiguity about this.’
MP Mr Byrne, whose Hodge Hill constituency includes Parkfield, said talks were continuing to try to bring about a resolution.
He said parents at the school did not endorse homophobic views.
A new cross party education equalities group is also being set up in the city, and new talks are also taking place this week between Parkfield parents, LGBT+ representatives and Department for Education officials, he said.
Sara Khan, the national lead commissioner on Counter Extremism, was in Birmingham this week. In an exclusive interview with BirminghamLive she said: “There is evidence people travelled from other parts of the country, including South Wales, to exploit the situation at Parkfield School.
“It is a tactic used by extremists – they get involved in an issue they have no stake in, handing out leaflets, posting videos and flyers online, to create a climate that is not helpful. We know that is what was happening here.”
Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood also broke his silence on the issue, saying he understands the concerns of Muslim parents about the age appropriateness of some aspects of No Outsiders.
“The issue here for many parents is whether the programme is teaching materials that are age appropriate for younger children. I have previously criticised people promoting the wearing of the hijab in primary schools as I feel that too is not age appropriate and is sexualising young people – if I say that, then I have to say the same here to maintain an even balance.”
Parkfield’s assistant headteacher Andrew Moffat, who created and piloted No Outsiders, previously revealed how he felt targeted amid personal threats and insults, but vowed he was “in exactly the right place” and “feedback from the vast majority of parents has been good”.
Ironically, he was today flying out to Dubai to hear if he has been named world teacher of the year. Moffatt is one of 10 teachers from around the world who have made it to the shortlist for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2019. The award will be announced this weekend.
He was selected from more than 10,000 nominations from 179 countries in recognition of his work promoting inclusivity and tolerance among schoolchildren.