Education Secretary condemns protests outside LGBT lessons row primary school

The Education Secretary has issued a fierce condemnation of protests outside a primary school over LGBT teaching in its curriculum.

Damian Hinds branded demonstrations outside Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham “unacceptable” after the head teacher announced the site would close early on Friday over safety fears.

Protesters have been gathered outside the school, in Dennis Road, for several weeks despite criticism from authorities including the council and police.

Cabinet meeting
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has issued a blunt criticism of the protests (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Mr Hinds said on Thursday: “It is unacceptable that children at Anderton Park are missing out on education because of the threat of protests.

“There is no place for protests outside school gates.

“They can frighten children, intimidate staff and parents and, in the worst cases, be hijacked by individuals with a vested interest and no links to the schools.

“It is time for these protests to stop.”

The head teacher, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, has decided to close the school at lunchtime on Friday for the half-term break ahead of a planned demonstration.

Mr Hinds added: “I support and trust head teachers to make decisions in the interests of their pupils and it’s unacceptable that this school finds itself in a position where it feels it has no choice but to close early for the last day of term.”

He said the Department for Education was working with authorities and “taking steps to encourage further talks and dialogue between the school and a number of parents”.

Tensions escalated on Sunday as police were called amid claims counter-protesters were egged while putting up banners in support of the school, including some with the message “love is the answer”.

Protesters at Anderton Park Primary School
Parents, children and protesters at Anderton Park Primary School (Aaron Chown/PA)

Welcoming the “extremely difficult decision” to close early, Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward said the first priority was the safety of pupils, families and staff, as protests had “escalated significantly” over the past week.

He said the council was working with police to ensure the school was supported when it reopened on June 3, adding: “I urge parents to engage with the school if they have concerns about equalities education.”

The council has said it is looking into whether it could employ a public space protection order to move demonstrations away from the school.

On Tuesday, West Midlands Police Chief Constable David Thompson called for a halt to protests, and for fresh talks between school leaders and some parents who have objected to elements of Anderton Park’s relationships education.

This followed what the senior police officer called a “number of criminal offences” near the school on Sunday night.

School protest
Protests have been going on for weeks (Aaron Chown/PA)

Police are also investigating claims Ms Hewitt-Clarkson was sent threatening messages.

Mr Thompson said: “Frankly, a primary school is no place for the continuance of a large scale protest, however lawful.”

The main organiser of the protests is Shakeel Afsar, whose children do not go to the school.

Mr Afsar, who has a niece and nephew who attend, said that without further “mediation” between parents, the school and the council, the latest pre-planned rally would be going ahead on Friday.

He has claimed demonstrations are continuing because the school is using “children as pawns” by teaching LGBT equality which is “over-emphasising a gay ethos”.

He has rejected allegations the protests are homophobic, claiming the school should respect the protesters’ “moral beliefs”.

In early May, he was given a legal warning by the council not to interfere with the school’s operation, but he has continued to attend demonstrations.

In an exchange outside the school on Monday, Labour MP Jess Phillips told Mr Afsar that demonstrators could not “pick and choose” which equality they applied.

But constituency Labour MP Roger Godsiff has since said he “understood” parents’ concerns over whether all the material was “age appropriate” for four and five-year-olds.

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