From the TUC

Free Schools and Academies: A risk to LGBT equality gains?

17 May 2011, by in Equality

This Government’s Free Schools and Academies programme could be putting in jeopardy some of the massive steps forward that the last decade has seen on equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.

The equal civil rights for LGBT people that were brought in under the previous Government have been accompanied by an increased awareness of the continuing problem of homophobic bullying in schools, and the persistence of homophobic attitudes among many young people.

But the setting up of Free Schools and Academies with a licence to disregard the requirements of current good educational practice may end up creating islands of homophobia – schools where pupils, their parents and teachers are subject to ongoing discrimination and prejudice without challenge.

Indeed, the greater ‘autonomy’ given under the Free Schools and Academies legislation could be used by those who actively wish to opt out of good practice for their own homophobic ends.

Whilst Michael Gove has claimed he wants his reforms to give more freedom to teachers to make decisions over curriculum, assessment and teaching and learning approaches, this is pretty empty rhetoric.  What is happening in practice is that as we’ve seen with the setting up of Academies, the coming Free Schools may instead place additional constraints on what teachers can do, as many of these schools will be more narrowly driven ideologically and dominated by the profit factor.

Sex and relationships education can be (and in many cases is) pursued in faith schools in an inclusive and non stigmatising way. There are examples such as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Birmingham’s ‘All that I am‘ initiative. There are many progressive faith organisations and individuals who are prepared to tackle faith-based homophobia in their own traditions and institutions.

There are many people in all the different faith communities who do not want to be used as ammunition by a Government which is all too ready to cut back, or even reverse, the legal frameworks which protect LGBT rights, and the duty to promote diversity, equality, and social cohesion, not least for all our young people.

NOTE: To mark today’s International Day Against Homophobia, the Cutting Edge Consortium (an alliance of secular organisations including the TUC who make common cause with progressive faith groups to fight homophobia) are hosting a seminar on the implications of Free Schools and Academies on LGBT rights in education. The seminar will be held at 6.30pm today (Tuesday) at Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS, and is free to attend.
GUEST POST: Maria Exall is Chair of the Cutting Edge Consortium. She is also Chair of the TUC’s LGBT Committee and a member of the National Executive of the Communications Workers’ Union.