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Should Pride be banned in Catholic schools?

Our guest blogger, Troy Jenkinson reflects on the RSHE Consultation as the Bishop of Nottingham uses it to dictate a ban on pride in schools...


On 16th May 2024 (Key Stage 2 SATS Week) the DfE produced its draft RSHE Guidance for consultation. This blog explores how it has been referenced in another document produced for the Catholic schools of Nottingham by their Diocese and Bishop and how we as educational professionals need to consider some of the questions both of these documents raise.

In an article for the BBC published on Saturday 8th June, Rebecca Dickson reported how Notts LGBT+ Network, a local charity had criticised the Catholic Church in Nottingham for issuing new guidance for schools around the teaching of homosexuality and gender issues called “Precious In My Sight.” Patrick McKinney, the Bishop of Nottingham said it was “not appropriate for our Catholic schools to celebrate Pride as we cannot endorse its entire agenda.” Yet Notts LGBT+ Network called the advice regressive and disappointing.

The Catholic guidance document states “Whilst there is a statutory obligation at secondary level for all schools to include curriculum content on LGBT, there is no legal obligation for them to celebrate Pride.”

There appears to be much contradiction around the subject with Bishop Patrick McKinney starting positively, stating that “Every person, without exception, is precious in God’s sight and therefore ours” and adding “accompanying students who question their gender is a complex but essential pastoral duty to which schools of our diocese are very attentive.”

The bishop quotes Pope Francis as having said “beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created,” linking this and what the Bible teaches; God first created man and woman in his own image. It recognises the complexities that are legal, medical, theoretical, psychological, spiritual and pedagogical in an ever changing and polarising political, cultural and commercial sphere. He acknowledges that some staff have chosen to transition and wishes to be respectful and welcoming to all and that the document aims to work within the remits of the Equality Act, DfE and OFSTED requirements. Specifically, “Precious In  My Sight” aims to give direction in relation to Pride and LGBT+ groups in schools. But does it do this or just accentuate the tide of hate against some parts of the LGBT+ community?

Pride Month:

Firstly, it suggests that those offering guidance and support to students should have completed a Certificate in Pastoral Accompaniment (CPA) that must be reviewed annually. It admits that the age and stage of pupils requiring accompaniment will be different for differing pupils but argues that LGBTQ+ being an umbrella term, is not always helpful to students. He recommends that support should be offered on an individual basis rather than as part of group work and dictates that schools should deliver statutory content about LGBTQ+ during LGBT History month (February) rather than during Pride month (June). Why dictate that content be delivered in any particular month? Does it matter? Moreover, why should support be offered on an individual basis? When I came out, a group of people who I identified with was the biggest support group I could have ever had.

“Precious In My Site” identifies that in respect of the teaching that we are each made in the likeness of God, that we are precious and loved; stating the Pride movement is very similar. Yet it refers to how Pride month celebrates lifestyle choices that are contrary to the teachings of the church and it is for this reason that the document does not support the celebration of Pride in schools citing the (draft) DfE RSHE Guidance does not state an obligation to celebrate Pride month.

True; there is no obligation to celebrate Pride month, but there is also no dictate to NOT celebrate Pride either in the proposed RSHE guidance. Although I would strongly encourage schools to not limit any discussions around LGBT+ equality to one single event/month, it is important to recognise why we have to have Pride months in the first place. Just like we have other commemorative days and months such as that for Black History month; it amplifies the voices of those who have been repressed and marginalised in the past. By publishing this piece of guidance, Bishop Patrick McKinney is accentuating the hate filled rhetoric of the DfE produced guidance by dictating that Catholic schools should not to celebrate Pride. Perhaps McKinney has forgotten that Pride is not just about rainbows and parades, but about validation, protection and authenticity; loving yourself as you are, beautifully put here in this infographic by Blessthemessy.

LGBT Groups:

In relation to schools offering LGBTQ+ societies or groups, the Catholic guidance states there is no legal obligation to do so, but schools must not discriminate directly or indirectly on the basis of sexuality of gender identity. It says any proposal by a school to do so needs to be discussed with the Nottingham Roman Catholic Diocese Education Service (NRCDES) and key staff/lay chaplains need to ensure sufficient opportunity to listen to the needs of students, however those providing support must be confident in the knowledge of the teachings of the church. Provision must be transparently provided and the name of such groups must reflect the Catholic ethos of the school, being monitored carefully. While provision must be transparent, the very directives that have been included in the document appear to put blocks in place for any group being formed and thus risk the potential for some students to meet more covertly. Surely, it is safer for a school to be less dictatorial and therefore promote more openness?

RSHE Guidance

Finally, “Precious in my sight” considers the draft RSHE guidance produced by the DfE, identifying that schools should be respectful and tolerant, parents should be included in any decisions around social transitioning and there is no general duty to allow students to socially transition. It goes on to carefully consider “watchful waiting” to allow a student a period of time before considering any requests to socially transition and takes into account the need to make parents aware, consider safeguarding issues, views of the parent, age of the student, clinical information available together with the seriousness and context of the request. It looks at the long term and short-term impact on the student and others in the school.

While some of what this and the RSHE guidance states is sensibly considered, as a former school leader, I feel I can speak for many other school leaders in saying that much of the advice is not new. When supporting a child, it is paramount to engage with them to help consider the long and short term impact, as well as working with their family, taking into consideration varying complexities. Yet each case has its own set of circumstances and it is for the schools to be trusted as professionals in each case.

The draft RSHE Guidance very prescriptively formalises the ages at which children and young people should be exposed to differing content. This only muddies the water with specific times to deliver such content, when indeed many particularly primary aged pupils, may have already had exposure to things that could potentially be inappropriate. The RSHE Guidance appears to have influenced people like Bishop Patrick to take the document and embellish it with their own stamp.

Delving into the complicated topic of name changes and pronoun usage, Bishop McKinney states that only in exceptional cases will secondary schools consider changing pronouns (and primary schools should not consider it at all). Even then, “Precious In My Sight” does not mandate that teachers or other students should be encouraged to refer to them. How does this respect ones rights? It considers the use of toilet, changing and residential facilities and once again, airs on the side of caution by stating that the law requires single sex provisions, however where a student finds this intrusive, the school should consider “alternative” provision. It is almost an after thought that does not protect everyone within the schools he advises.

Concerns with the draft RSHE Guidance:

The draft RSHE Guidance does not dictate that primary schools should teach about the Equality Act (2010), even though many schools (including the ones I used to lead) do this extremely well, proving that students of primary age can be enabled to develop a better understanding of inclusion. Just as the guidance states it should be statutory that secondary students be taught about LGBT+ families, many primary aged pupils will be part of LGBT+ families; by not integrating this into primary education, they will not have representation in their own schools, thus being excluded in their own community. While it is accepted that gender identity is a complex subject, it is also hugely important to some people’s sense of identity. Schools need to discuss this at an age and stage appropriate to educate children and young people who may be like them and people who may be different. Ultimately, the draft guidance limits the professionalism of school leaders who know their settings and students best and risks making teachers fearful of doing the wrong thing by putting in place such strict parameters that are arbitrary and not based upon strong research, indeed Dr Sophie King-Hill (University of Birmingham) compiled extensive findings in her report Young People’s Voices at the request of the DfE that were ultimately not considered. She found young people considered RSHE provision to be inadequate, boring and shameful, harking back to the days of Section 28 when shame was the name of the game. Could it be that this report did not fit with what the DfE wanted to hear?

Echoes of Section 28:

When talking about the teaching of LGBT content, Bishop Patrick McKinney’s document concludes that schools are free to determine how and when to deliver this “at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum” however it goes further to state that LGBT content is not a curriculum requirement at primary level. Furthermore it states “if a primary school does not teach awareness of and respect towards LGBT people this will not have an impact on the leadership and management judgement as long as schools can satisfy inspectors that it has still fulfilled DfE statutory guidance.”

This final point is why many have likened the draft RSHE Guidance to the archaic Section 28 that supported homophobes back in 1988 and ultimately created shame and mental health problems for a large proportion of the homosexual community. Bullies were allowed to spread hate, unchallenged.

What you can do:

School staff need to feel empowered to support their students rather than be bamboozled by yet more guidance and support that is not fit for purpose and out of touch with today’s society. There is a danger that in the melee of election campaigning and with the timing of its publication (Key Stage 2 SATS Week), this consultation will have passed over many people.

You must act now. Go online and have your voice heard. Click here and spend some time responding to the consultation before it is too late as consultation closes on 11th July.

For more information or support on this subject, you can contact me directly through my website or social media, or there are a wealth of organisations such as Pride Progress and Diverse Educators who are great to network with.

Good luck!

Thank you to Troy Jenkinson's contribution to our blog. Troy Jenkinson is a former headteacher/executive-head turned children's author and Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Specialist. He now enjoys spending time delivering key notes & training for trusts, colleges, individual schools, charities and corporate companies as well as direct work with children with inspiring author visits; recognised by OFSTED as "developing pupils' understanding and respect for different family groups."

The views in our guest blogs do not necessarily represent the views of More Than Flags and Rainbows or any of its directors, partners or employees.




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