Protests outside Parkview School in Birmingham have been an issue now for many months. The protests have been against the ‘No Outsiders Programme’ designed by assistant Headteacher, Andrew Mofatt. An injunction against the protests resulted in a ban on protests at the school. We wait to see whether a High Court ruling will make this ban permanent. Meanwhile the protests have spread to Anderton Park Primary School, also in Birmingham.
At the heart of the protests is the claim that bringing LGBTQ issues into the primary school curriculum is not age-appropriate, and not in keeping with the values of conservative Muslim parents who claim that they have not been sufficiently consulted about this issue. These concerns, on the part of parents, are also linked with the view, in educational language, that one cannot distinguish between ‘learning about’ LGBTQ issues and ‘learning from’ such issues. In other words, to learn that there are some families with two Dads or two Mums, and that this is ‘normal’, is to tacitly commend such lifestyles. This is because to draw attention to such things to a young child is to put into their imaginations such possibilities, and children are highly imaginative and very much open to suggestion.
One of the leading protestors, who does not himself have any children at any of the schools about which the protests are staged, said that as a Muslim he does not approve of homosexuality. He thinks that parents who share his view should not have to accept their very young children being taught about LGBTQ issues, because they do not believe in such a way of living and they believe that homosexual sex is wrong on religious grounds.
I shall make a few very brief points here. Giving specific recognition to a succession of minority identity groups as they appear to be in need of recognition and support has its problems, not least because it can be divisive with a wide array of groups and causes craving recognition. Just which identity group deserves special support and acceptance at a given time is not agreed, among educationalists, community leaders or politicians, leaving aside the prejudices that thrive at the edges of the political spectrum.
All the same, that recognition should be granted to groups at different junctures within a culture’s development in order to head off ostracism and prejudice has to be right. As part of this narrative, progressive liberalism should be saying to the protestors, the stake that, for example, homosexuals have in the education system and curriculum is equally valid with the stake that Muslims have in this too. It should be made clear that the educational curriculum, especially within Religious Education, has been designed, and continues to be designed, to identify Muslims as a part of British society, while more could and should be done here, especially in some Christian and Jewish schools, where in some cases nothing is done. SACREs (Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education) bring Muslims, as well as other religious minority groups, into the heart of the process of curriculum development about their faiths. But, being within that process, involves recognising that other minority groups have their rightful place there too.
Second, parents do not own their children. The education that is due to a child (for the sake of the child) is not the sole concern of the parent(s). The wider society also has a stake in this question, and therefore, in a democractic society, it also has a say.
We should be clear, following the remarks made by Mona Siddiqi on the Moral Maze, that condemnation of homosexuality is not universally agreed upon within Islam. More generally, interpretations of the Qur’an and the methods to be employed for interpreting the Qur’an, are not agreed either among Muslims.
We should also ask, and ask the community of parents at the school, what valid place people have in the protest, who are not themselves parents of children at the school, and who are not necessarily from the local community.