Birmingham LGBT row: The view from the school gates

By Lisa Wright
BBC News

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Parents and protesters have gathered outside the school chanting "let kids be kids"

Protesters have gathered outside a Birmingham school for eight weeks in a dispute over teaching children about LGBT relationships. As the row continues, the views of those at the gates of Anderton Park Primary are varied and passionate.

At the heart of a terraced street sits a striking, red-brick building with a spire. A sign on its fence reads "relationships, aspirations, sparkle", encapsulating the ethos of a school at the centre of the storm.

It feels like a normal day, except for the police car and three officers that have pulled up outside Anderton Park Primary to help manage the protests that have rumbled on outside the school since March.

The problems flared when parents and campaigners rallied against pupils being taught about same-sex relationships and transgender issues. In recent weeks, children have been removed from classes and teachers have been threatened.

The situation has divided the Anderton Park community in Balsall Heath, many of whom are from a Muslim background.

When approached by the BBC to talk about their views, most parents did not want to talk about it. Of those that did, the overwhelming majority were reluctant to be named or photographed.

Image caption,
A protest outside the school on Friday is thought to have been the biggest so far

Rawasia Bibi has two daughters at the school, aged eight and 11, who she said "stand with me at the protest".

She said the protesters are not homophobic - she "lives in a neighbourhood where we've got transgender and gays and it doesn't matter" - but that she disagreed with teaching young children about LGBT issues.

"We don't agree with what [head teacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson] is teaching our children," she added.

"It's nothing to do with LGBT, they can do what they want with their lives. We are saying teach this in secondary schools, not primary schools."

Image source, Getty Images/Christopher Furlong
Image caption,
Although Anderton Park does not teach the No Outsiders programme, demonstrators argue the lessons are "the same"

Fellow parent Safina Bibi agreed and said her daughter had been affected by the protests.

"Sometimes she gets upset - she asks why the teachers and parents are fighting.

"When it comes to sex and things, why are they teaching them that? Why can't they just teach them what they need to be taught?"

The protests spread to Anderton Park from Parkfield Community School in Alum Rock, where parents raised a petition in January claiming some of the teaching contradicted Islam.

The "No Outsiders" scheme, created by one of its teachers Andrew Moffatt, had been running at the school since 2014.

It was formed to educate children about the Equality Act, British values, and diversity, using storybooks to teach children about LGBT relationships, race, religion, adoption and disability.

Image caption,
Andrew Moffat pioneered the No Outsiders programme to educate about different relationships

Anderton Park had not been teaching No Outsiders specifically, but did teach children about equality and relationships.

The demonstrations at its gates have been no less heated than those at Alum Rock and have even involved threats to teachers.

"I don't think anyone should be bullied about anything that's prevalent in our society," said mother of twins, Dionne Reid.

"My kids get really upset about it, they love Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson and they say everyone's got rights. They don't understand the protests.

"What I don't like is [the demonstrators] force it on to you."

Image caption,
Faizal Kareem wants teachers and parents to "sit down and talk about things"

Dropping off his son, Faizal Kareem said he was "neutral" when it came to the protests, but did not agree with what was being taught.

"To be honest, this LGBT, I'm against it. When they grow up they will learn [these] things anyway.

"I think this isn't the time, we have plenty more issues to discuss with kids like robbery, crime, drugs; really important issues."

He wants parents and teachers to "sit and talk about things".

"They say in Alum Rock the protests were successful and now [No Outsiders] has stopped there, that's what they are hoping here."

Image caption,
Anderton Park Primary had to close early for half-term ahead of planned demonstrations

One mother, who did not want to be named, said the content should be taught so children don't grow up to feel "alien" in the world.

"What they are teaching we don't believe, but I think there should be more [focus] on the children.

"In the world today they can see [different beliefs] in the media and if they have this information from school they will know what the world is like and won't feel so alien.

"Personally, [protests] are not the peaceful way of doing things."

Within half an hour, the school rush dies down. A police car circles the street intermittently.

A few parents chat on the corner - it's barely worth them leaving; they will have to return at midday to pick up their children because the school is closing early due to concerns about a planned protest.

Image caption,
The school's sign reads "relationships, aspirations, sparkle"

Jumshad Khan lives opposite the school. A former pupil himself, he now has three children at the school aged four, five and nine. He thinks children should "be aware" of LGBT issues but parents should talk about society and religion "at home".

"I went to this school and we were taught hymns. I'm Muslim, not Christian, [and] my parents didn't have a problem with me being taught that.

"It's a school that caters for the community, it's wrong that it's at the stage where the majority of the community are against the institution that's supposed to be educating our children.

"The issue here is the children, they are the ones that are getting disrupted."

As noon approaches, parents arrive to collect their children. The street briefly becomes busy again with families, a handful of protesters, and people carrying rainbow flags, before emptying again as the school shuts its doors.

Image caption,
Counter-demonstrators also come to the school to show support for the lessons

Rukhsana Hussain is a parent governor at the school. Herself a former pupil, she is one of few voices to speak passionately against the protesters.

"I do not begrudge them for what they are saying," she said. "However, look at what [they] are doing outside a primary school.

"Imagine going to school for eight weeks and having to see people shouting and chanting and humiliating the head teacher.

"How is this going to affect our children psychologically?"

At 14:20, the road fills again - the largest protest outside Anderton Park Primary since the conflict began. About 200 people gather in the narrow street, some sitting on walls, others watching from front gardens.

Some chant "our children, our choice", "let kids be kids" and "head teacher, step down". Parents wave banners, including one that reads "don't class us as homophobic".

Organiser Shakeel Afsar said the afternoon's protest was the "final step" before a petition would be handed in calling for Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson to step down as the school's head.

He said he hoped mediation could bring "transparent, sensible talks".

"Sit us down, sit the LGBT community down, and let's thrash this out like adults and stop being so intolerant to the community that have different views to yourself."

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