Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson is crying. The headteacher at Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham has suffered eight weeks of protests outside her school gates over her decision to teach LGBT-inclusive content to her young pupils, the vast majority of whom are Muslim.
After repeatedly putting on a brave face when I ask her how she is feeling, she finally admits: “I am in despair”, and then breaks down. She is struggling for control as she continues:
“I know one of the phrases that’s associated with domestic abuse is the crushing of the spirit of a woman. And that’s what I feel is happening. We can’t give in.”Really? You're a woman of your convictions, then? Pity the same can't be said about your backers...
The local Labour MP, Roger Godsiff, says that...“It was wrong of the government to give headteachers the power to decide what LGBT content to teach children at different ages, he says.
“I think that the government guidance should have been more prescriptive as to when the different elements of the Equality Act were appropriate, in the government’s opinion, to be taught to children. Governments are elected, people have recourse to hold their politicians to account. Headteachers have had this burden put on them, and in some cases are going to end up in the situation Anderton Park is in.”
He blames the academies system. “If schools were still maintained by local councils, in a situation like this Birmingham council could have put down a programme about how the elected representatives of the council believe the protected characteristics of the Equality Act should be taught. And then headteachers could have said: ‘we’re doing what we’ve been told to do.’”There speaks someone who has no courage, no convictions. "Big boys did it and ran away" "We were only obeying orders!"
What about fellow MP Jess Phillips?
“People have been too scared to stand up to this protest, including the Department for Education,” says Phillips.
She is deeply concerned that the protests will spread to other schools and bring in other faiths. “If we allow the protests at Anderton Park Road to change the way we teach in British schools and create a two-tier teaching system, where kids in white neighbourhoods can have all the equalities and kids in Asian neighbourhoods have to have things kept in the dark, they win.”"We can't let this happen, or we'll lost control, and that will never do!"
But back to Hewitt-Clarkson:
The government is shifting the responsibility for LGBT content – including the highly sensitive question of whether any LGBT content is “age appropriate” for primary school pupils – from politicians on to the shoulders of individual headteachers, she says.
“I’ve had eight weeks of protests as a result. It’s just unforgivable.”
While she is trying to deal with the protests and run a school, policymakers are “sitting in their offices in Whitehall looking at the Thames”: “They’re not working out how we’re going to sort out our deficit budget, our Sats results, all that stuff I’m doing in my job as headteacher. It’s not OK to write policies in Whitehall that affect me in Birmingham so badly.”When they write policies you agree with, I bet you're all for it.
That's why these protests are a warning sign. It's because you're weak. And they know it.