Sunday, August 18, 2013

Thatcher's Claws (28) coming back via Blair's Academies?

WHEN Baroness Thatcher died earlier this year, Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell reminded people of some of the nastier side of her reign, including the anti-gay law Section 28, so called because it was introduced as a Clause 28 of the Local Government Bill, becoming Section 28 when the bill became an Act of parliament, which stated a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".

Brought in on the back of the AIDS panic and with newspapers like the Daily Mail publishing sensational reports of explicit homosexual material supposedly aimed at small children, the law nevertheless aroused widespread opposition and protests, ranging from conventional mass demonstrations to dramatic actions such as lesbians abseiling into parliament and invading a TV studio.One good effect of the bill was that many "straight" left groups and individuals like myself whose attitude had been at best complacent now felt obliged to join the opposition to this reactionary measure.

There was concern at the homophobia encouraged by presenting gay people as somehow proselytising, by "promoting" their personal lifestyle, and fears that not only would support groups be hit, but education censored. Would teachers be allowed to mention famous writers who had been gay? Would they be afraid to counter bullying, or give counselling to young people worried about their sexuality?  What about pupils with a gay parent or family member?

A National Union of Teachers (NUT) statement remarked that "While Section 28 applies to local authorities and not to schools, many teachers believe, albeit wrongly, that it imposes constraints in respect of the advice and counselling they give to pupils. Professional judgement is therefore influenced by the perceived prospect of prosecution."

The Department for Education and Science issued a statement meant to reassure people that Section 28 "will not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, nor the counselling of pupils concerned about their sexuality.”
But Tory Education Minister Jill Knight said: “     This has got to be a mistake. The major point of it was to protect children in schools from having homosexuality thrust upon them."

Thatcher had attacked “positive images” of gay people, saying during a speech on Section 28 that she worried: “Children are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.”

In May 2000 the Christian Institute unsuccessfully took Glasgow city council to court, claiming it was promoting homosexuality by funding an AIDS support charity.  One month later the newly devolved Scottish parliament voted overwhelmingly to get rid of Section 28, despite a campaign to keep it by millionaire transport boss Brian Souter.

Someone else who strongly defended Section 28 at this time was David Cameron. He accused Labour and Prime Minister Tony Blair of being "anti -family" and wanting the "promotion of homosexuality in schools". Cameron continued backing Section 28 when he was elected as an MP in 2003, and tried to amend its repeal, though he failed, and was absent from the vote when it was revealed. Then in June 2009, having become leader of the Tory party, and hoping to be Tory prime minister, Cameron apologised for his party introducing the law, saying it had been a mistake and was offensive to gay people.

So with Section 28 repealed, and the government supporting gay marriage, the issue would seem to be like Margaret Thatcher, thankfully dead and buried. Except it isn't. Kent County Council for one has kept its own version. And an article in Gay Star News reveals that the hated Section 28 has been given a new lease of life in the Sex and Relationships Education policies adopted by several of the schools that have become so-called Academies. The schools’ policy states while ‘objective discussion of homosexuality may take place in the classroom,’ ‘the governing body will not permit the promotion of homosexuality’.

"The schools are Castle View Enterprise Academy in Sunderland, Swindon Academy, Stockport Academy, Radcliffe School in Milton Keynes, Grace Academy in Coventry, William Hulmes Grammar School in Manchester and Bridge Academy in Hackney, London. Colston Girl’s School in Bristol are reviewing their anti-gay policy after complaints..."

Like the Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) in the hospitals, the Academies were a Tory idea adopted and introduced with enthusiasm by New Labour. Tony Blair and his education adviser Lord Adonis started the policy in 2000. For an investment of 10 per cent, up to £2 million, leaving the taxpayer to make up the rest,  rich business people or religious outfits gain control of a school's policies, curriculum, and appointments.

Among the first to get into the game was Sir Peter Vardy, whose wealth came from Reg Vardy PLC, the second-hand car business he inherited from his father. He acquired three academies for £2 million each, while public money made up the rest.  The bills included £14,039 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for the loan of Sir Peter's brother David, and larger sums to Sir Peter's own company. Render unto Ceasar, as they say. Unlike your ordinary state school the Academies are not under the control of elected local authorities, and nor are they obliged to put work out to tender. The government has been much more generous in funding for these supposedly independent academies than for state schools.

Some academies say they believe in honouring national agreements, but others are not too keen on the teachers' unions.

Sir Peter is a Bible believer, though he denies being a creationist in the sense of thinking God made the universe in six days. His man running the Emmanuel Schools Trust, Mr.Nigel McQuoid, however says schools should teach the creation story as told in Genesis.  

Mr McQuoid also said: “The Bible says clearly that homosexual activity is against God’s design. I would indicate that to young folk.” As for those who did not agree, he told a local newspaper: “I don’t have to respect everyone’s opinion. I don’t respect the opinion of people who believe it’s fine to live with a partner. Head teachers are responsible to God and the standards of the bible. Nothing in the school should contradict the teachings of the bible.”

“If academies are to succeed,” says his colleague John Burn, “they need to be led and staffed by people who are obedient to God’s truth as revealed in the scriptures.” So, no teachers who do not hold the approved theological opinions. 

Mr Burn is one of the founders of the Newcastle-based Christian Institute, set up in 1991 to promote fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and is an outspoken opponent of the ordination of women. In September 2000, Stephen Layfield, head of science at one of Vardy’s schools, Emmanuel College, Gateshead, delivered a lecture called “The teaching of science – a biblical perspective”. It reads rather like a revivalist sermon and lays down a duty upon teachers to “do all they can to ensure that pupils, parents and fellow colleagues are reminded frequently that all is not what it seems when popular so-called scientific dogma presents itself before them.” When you find mention of evolution in a textbook, “point out the fallibility of the statement.”
- From Francis Beckett’s book, The Great City Academy Fraud, published in 2007 by Continuum.

Tony Blair said he was not concerned about schools being run by creationists as long as they got good exam results. In fact, despite having more resources, and carrying out selection (and in the Vardy case, more expulsions), Academies have not being do so well academically. But they have kept on spreading, and receiving government encouragement, and funding.

In 2010, Vardy's Emmanuel Schools Foundation announced it was handing over management of its schools, all in the North East, to the United Learning Trust (ULT), based in Oundle, Northamptonshire. ULT was formed in 2002 as a subsidiary of the United Church Schools Trust (UCST) which has been running independent schools in the UK since 1883.

ULT, whose connections include Vodafone UK Foundation, Honda and Barclays, is the sponsor of the Swindon and Stockport Academies and the William Hulme Grammar in Manchester, mentioned in the Gay Star News report. It subscribes to a "Church of England ethos". The Grace Academy in Coventry is run by the Grace Foundation, a registered charity founded by Bob Edmiston, of the evangelical international charity Christian Vision.

In recent years we may have relaxed our vigilance with Section 28 seeming out of the way. Just now there is a storm justifiably growing over similar legislation, as well as brutal homophobe attacks, in Putin's Russia. We might also need to wake up to some quieter reactionary developments in Britain.

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At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Sue Katz said...

The idea of outlawing lesbianism in an Academy in Hackney of all places is like outlawing water in the ocean.


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