Section 28: Schools 'still have anti-gay policies', claim humanists

Classroom scene
Image caption Some schools still have outdated sex education policies, humanists say

The Welsh government has said it will investigate reports that two schools still have sex education policies which ban the promotion of homosexuality.

The law known as Section 28 was passed by the Conservative government in 1988 but overturned by Labour in 2003.

The British Humanist Association said Tasker Milward in Haverfordwest and St Illtyd's RC School in Cardiff appeared to believe Section 28 was still law.

Tasker Milward has apologised for having "an old policy" on its website.

"The sex education policy on the Tasker-Milward school website was an old policy not in operation and which had not been deleted," said the school in a statement.

"The school does have a current strategic equality plan, further details of which can be obtained directly from the school.

"The head teacher, Maggie Haynes, apologises for any distress that the failure to remove the old policy from the website may have caused."

Introduced by Margaret Thatcher's government, Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act stated that councils should not "intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" in its schools or other areas of their work.

It faced strong protests led by gay rights and equality campaigners until it was repealed by the devolved administration in Scotland in 2000 and by the UK government with respect to England and Wales in 2003.

'High concern'

In 2009 Prime Minister David Cameron gave a public apology for the Tories' actions in passing Section 28, saying: "We got it wrong".

But the British Humanist Association (BHA) said it had found that 45 schools continued to have sex and relationships education policies that either replicated Section 28 or were "unhelpfully vague" on the issue.

The BHA said the two schools in Wales it identified gave them "high concern" for making reference to Section 28 in their policies on sex education, suggesting the schools believed that the act was still in force 10 years after it was overturned.

A copy of Tasker Milward's sex and relationships education policy, updated in 2008, states: "Section 28 of the Local Government [Act] does not prevent teachers from addressing issues of homosexuality in the classroom in a neutral and unbiased manner, however, the LA [local authority] shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material which actively promotes homosexuality".

St Illtyd's published policy, dated May 2011, says: "It is noted that Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 does not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the class room."

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cardiff, speaking on behalf of the school, said its new head teacher would be asked to review the wording of the policy to ensure that it complies fully with the law.

On Tuesday, the Welsh government said it was "very concerned" to hear reports about the two schools' sex education policies.

"The law is very clear in respect of Section 28," a spokesperson said.

"We are investigating this as a matter of urgency."

'Open discussion'

The government later added: "All children and young people in Wales should receive inclusive sex and relationships education.

"It is extremely important that young people are taught in a way that does not subject them to discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 is very clear on this.

"Our guidance to schools provides definitive advice about the teaching of all aspects of relationships and specific sexual health and well-being issues such as sexual orientation.

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Media captionWes Streeting of Stonewall said Section 28 had "devastating consequences"

"Teachers should deal with sexual orientation honestly, sensitively and in a non-judgemental way. The needs of every learner must be met and schools should encourage open discussion, promote inclusion and challenge inequalities.

"We will be reminding all schools of our guidance and their responsibilities."

Andrew White, director of the gay rights organisation Stonewall Cymru, said: "Wales led the way by effectively repealing Section 28 in 2002, a full year before Westminster.

"It's a real shame that the Welsh schools in question haven't updated their policy in the past decade.

"Regardless of whether a policy is lapsed, if it appears on a school website it forms part of that school's message to parents and young people.

"Section 28 was a spiteful, harmful piece of legislation and should not form part of the message any Welsh school gives to anyone.

"We are reassured that the schools named have now committed to updating their communications."

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