Northamptonshire academy trust defends 'explicitly homophobic' sex education policy

East Midlands Academy Trust, which has secondary schools in Oundle and Northampton, has a policy that says promotion of homosexuality or bisexuality will not be permitted.

By Sarah Ward
Tuesday, 25th February 2020, 9:43 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th February 2020, 10:39 am
A bisexual teacher who was looking at a job vacancy at Northampton International Academy came across the policy and says they will now not apply to the post.
A bisexual teacher who was looking at a job vacancy at Northampton International Academy came across the policy and says they will now not apply to the post.

A Northamptonshire academy trust has defended accusations that a sex education policy it created is ‘explicity homophobic’.

The East Midlands Academy Trust says in its policy that promotion of homosexuality and bisexuality ‘will not be permitted’ and links the spread of HIV with homosexuality.

A bisexual teacher who read the policy when considering applying for a job at one of EMAT’s schools says the policy is ‘from the dark ages’ and a throwback to the highly controversial Section 28 legislation which banned schools in the late 1980s through to the early 2000s from ‘promoting’ homosexuality.

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EMAT runs a number of schools in the county including Prince William School in Oundle.

The policy was widely condemned by schools, teachers and gay rights campaigners and 10 year ago then Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for section 28, calling it ‘offensive’.

EMAT’s Relationships and Sex Education policy, which is published on its website, is found in section 11 which is headed homosexuality:

“11.1 The Academy Trust recognises the need to address the issue of homosexuality and the need to provide education related to the spread of HIV/AIDS which will, of necessity, include reference to homosexuals and bisexuals. Objective discussion of homosexuality may take place in the classroom.

11.2 The Academy Trust will not permit the promotion of homosexuality or bisexuality.”

The teacher, whose identity the Local Democracy Reporting Service is keeping anonymous, said: “It is particularly shocking to read a policy that so closely models the much despised section 28. That long repealed law spread fear into the hearts of teachers in the 1990s – where the ban on “promoting homosexuality” was used a stick to beat teachers and local authorities who wanted to provide services, support or even simply acceptance for children and teenagers who were different. To use that language is at worst deliberate, and at best deeply ignorant. It may even be a breach of the law.”

In response, a spokesman for the trust, which runs Prince William School in Oundle and the Northampton International Academy, said: “The statutory DfE guidance around sex and relationships has been updated and will take effect in September 2020. The policy referred to is an old policy developed under the existing DfE guidance from 2000. Ahead of the forthcoming change in guidance, a new policy is due to be presented to our trust board at its next meeting in April 2020.

“As a trust, we strongly believe in equality of opportunity for every pupil and teacher across our schools, as stated in our Equalities Policy 2019-21.

“The relationships and sex education delivered within our schools is fully inclusive and we operate a strict no-tolerance approach to bullying across the trust and work hard to promote our schools as safe and inclusive learning environments for all pupils, staff and volunteers.”

However the trust, which was first formed in 2013 as the EMLC and then rebranded in EMAT in 2018, has changed the wording of the 2000 policy which reads ‘there should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation’ to ‘there should be no direct promotion of homosexuality or bisexuality.’

The teacher insists the amendment can have only been a deliberate act and said: “It is explicitly homophobic and it is difficult to read it any other way. The idea that a lifestyle can be promoted just by accepting it is straight out of section 28. This is a deliberate act- they know the context. The lineage is very clear.

“I was considering applying for a job until I saw the policy which made it clear that this was not a school for me. I would not be able to work at a school where simply by discussing something could result in disciplinary action. This is outright prohibition.

“It is either the current board who is homophobic or the previous one. I just feel like section 28 is not dead. It is alive and well in Northamptonshire.”

The date that the policy was last ratified is blank. However, the policy does say it should be reviewed every year and the next review date was due for December 2019.

A media spokesman for the trust, said it was not known when the policy was last ratified and that it had been transferred over from the previous trust. The current chairman of the trustees, Kevin Crompton, who is also the recently appointed chairman of the Northamptonshire Children’s Safeguarding Partnership, has been involved with the trust since 2013. The current chief executive is Joshua Coleman.

The policy has been condemned by Q Space, a voluntary youth work association for LGBTQ+ young people in Northampton.

A spokesman said: “It is 17 years since Section 28 was repealed and so it is appalling that an education trust has reintroduced and expanded upon the homophobic attitude of the 1980s. Directly going against the DfE guidelines of 2000, and showing little respect for the Equality Act 2010.

“Their policy leaves students and staff who are gay or bi with no visibility. This easily leads to feelings that they are not valid or equal with school and the wider community.

“We should be raising a generation of forward thinkers, that have respect and acceptance of all, built upon diversity and inclusivity – this can only be achieved through the ability to have open conversation about LGBTQ+ identities and issues.”

Currently, sex and relationships education is only compulsory for secondary maintained schools, although primary schools and academies are encouraged to teach and have regard to the current sex and relationships education guidance.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “From September all secondary schools must have regard to the new Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education statutory guidance.

“All schools must have an up-to-date written policy in place and the statutory guidance sets out what should be covered within the policy.”

Section 28 was part of the Local Government Act 1988 which was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government and repealed in 2003.