Ofsted has said that schools may have used inappropriate materials when teaching on relationships and gender identity, due to confusion over equalities legislation.
Commenting on in-house research, Chris Jones, the education watchdog’s Director for Corporate Strategy, admitted school staff could have sometimes failed to show “political neutrality” when teaching on “contentious issues”.
It represents a change in tone from Ofsted, which has previously spoken out in favour of schools adopting “muscular liberalism” and endorsed the use of pro-trans material.
Jones said the Equality Act had been “contentious from the outset” and that “political sensitivities” in relation to gender and sexual identity had made it difficult for schools to “handle equalities well”.
He continued: “For example, school staff can occasionally confuse the legal, the moral and the political, and so (often inadvertently) bring overtly political materials into their curriculum and teaching without acknowledging it as such”.
The law in England and Wales requires schools to “secure that where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils, they are… offered a balanced presentation of opposing views”.
Guidance issued by the Department for Education last year tells schools to “be aware that the meaning of political issues does not refer solely to the discussion of party politics. Schools are advised to consider the range of issues on which there could be political views, which may include global affairs, equalities issues, religion and economics.”
Jones also conceded that, on occasions, schools and parents had been “unable to see eye-to-eye on the content and age-appropriateness of curriculum materials used to teach primary school pupils about same-sex relationships”.
However, he went on to claim that there were “inherent risks when pupils use online content or non-expert friends and family as the main sources of information about, for example, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT)”.
Whilst he accepted parents had “the right to educate their children” according to their “conservative faith or cultural values”, he suggested that “mixed messages” could lead to “confusion” and “potential upset”.
Ofsted is among a number of high profile public sector organisations that have left Stonewall’s highly controversial ‘Diversity Champions’ scheme in recent months.
Others include the House of Commons, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Government Equalities Office.
A guide to what schools can and can’t do in the name of equality and human rights
Christian teachers, parents and pupils are increasingly facing difficulties as the education system becomes more secular. Pressure groups with their own agendas are approaching schools offering advice, training and resources. Often this is backed up with vague appeals to the ‘Equality Act’ to make schools feel they have no alternative but to follow the advice given.