Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'A Lot of Parents Were Angry, So We Called the Police'

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'A Lot of Parents Were Angry, So We Called the Police'

Article excerpt

Headteacher speaks out on row over anti-homophobia lessons

Jamie Barry's description of the past few weeks as "difficult" is something of an understatement.

Earlier this month, police were called to the Birmingham primary where he is headteacher after a group of angry parents subjected him to an aggressive personal attack. An official from his union has said that it "appears to be a hate crime".

Now, speaking publicly for the first time since the incident, Mr Barry tells TES that the school will not back down on implementing the anti-homophobia lessons at the centre of the row. But he warns that schools need greater backing from the authorities if they are to successfully educate children about equality.

"Lots of parents think their children come to school to learn how to read and write," he says. "Some parents don't understand the wider curriculum and all the other things that come with it.

"This won't just be happening [here], it will be happening at lots of schools around the country and I think that there is some work for local authorities, Ofsted and the Department for Education to do with helping parents to understand the work that their children will be covering."

Welford Primary School decided to introduce the Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools (Chips) programme after the institution became one of 21 Birmingham schools to receive an emergency Ofsted inspection, part of inquiries into the alleged "Trojan Horse" Islamic fundamentalist takeover plot.

The watchdog gave the primary, in the Handsworth area of the city, a largely clean bill of health but reported that "some pupils lack some confidence in discussing different types of families and relationships".

Mr Barry says the governors anticipated that "some parents would be unhappy" about their chosen solution, but they did not foresee the full level of opposition.

"We know that there are community views, whether it is religious views or cultural views, that don't agree with the act of homosexuality," he says. "But we were trying to be really clear with our parents that this isn't a scheme of work about homosexuality. It is about challenging discrimination and celebrating diversity."

Elly Barnes, the former music teacher behind Chips, says the scheme, backed by Birmingham City Council, includes 21 books that introduce the concept that "some families have two mums and some families have two dads".

"There is one called King and King where the queen decides the prince has to get married," she tells TES. "He doesn't fancy any of the princesses but one of the princesses brings along her brother. He says, 'What a wonderful prince', and they fall in love and they get married."

The level of resistance among Welford parents became clear when more than 100 turned up to a school forum meeting that would usually attract no more than 20.

As the meeting progressed, senior staff decided to call for outside help. "We knew there were a lot of parents with a lot of anger and we felt that it might help to have some police there in case it did escalate even further," Mr Barry says. "I removed myself from the situation because of the anger and the personal remarks which were made towards me."

Anxious to move on, Mr Barry will not give any more detail about what happened except to say that the behaviour was "wholly inappropriate".

"It wasn't all of the parents that arrived that caused the problem," he stresses. …

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