Following yesterday’s coverage of the Department for Education’s position on teaching about sexual orientation and faith schools, it is worth clarifying that the Equality Act 2010 sets expectations on all schools, including faith schools, to promote equality. It is also worth remembering that the overwhelming majority of schools, including faith schools, are working hard to do so. To fail to promote equality is to let pupils down, so the efforts of the DfE and Ofsted on this issue are very welcome.
The term 'promote equality' is key in this debate: the DfE’s own guidance on the Equality Act is clear that schools should take steps to advance equality of opportunity which does in our view mean that all schools should be teaching about the rights of protected characteristic groups, including lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Doing so is, however, different from promoting any particular sexual orientation to pupils, as the DfE guidance on sex and relationships education clarifies. That guidance is also clear on the important role parents and community groups, including faith groups, play in schools. Indeed just as the Equality Act protects against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, so it protects against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.
These are not easy nuances to cover in this time of highly-charged, politicised debate. Discussions on how to achieve equality in a multicultural, pluralist society need time and space for calm consideration. This is why we continue to call for statutory PSHE as a means to ensure that every pupil is taught about these issues in adequate curriculum time by a trained and confident teacher. Statutory PSHE is backed by a range of respected bodies including the Equality and Human Rights Commission as well as teachers, parents and young people themselves. We hope that these voices will not be lost in this highly-charged debate.
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