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Monday, 2 April 2007

NSS and DfES show the next step

Two articles from the National Secular Society for which I have been sent links recently demonstrate the level of hatred that is bubbling under the surface in England.

In an editorial article Murphy O’Connor should be shown the door, Terry Sanderson rants against the very reasonable assertion by the Cardinal that religion is under attack in our country. He describes his speech as "breathtakingly manipulative." Rather than offer any reasoned defence of this position, Sanderson resorts to throwing in a reference to Fr Michael Hill and child abuse. He concludes:
"It’s time for the Catholic Church – and all the other religious bodies that seek to impose their will on democratic governments – to be firmly put in their place."
In another article Catholic Church not fit to run schools, says GALHA the NSS accepts uncritically the assertions of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association that "the Catholic Church is refusing to tackle homophobic bullying in its schools."

In fact, parents often cite as a reason for choosing a Catholic school that is has "good discipline." Catholic schools are less likely than others to tolerate pupils calling each other nasty names or bullying others because they are different.

There is, of course, far more than bullying at stake here. The DfES document "Challenging Homophobia in Schools" includes the following definition:
HETEROSEXISM describes the presumption that everyone is heterosexual. It refers to a culture in which individuals, families and their lifestyles are categorised according to a heterosexual model. Examples include the assumption that a male pupil will have, or be looking for, a girlfriend; or that a female parent, when talking about her partner, is referring to a male. Such a culture can make LGB pupils and staff feel marginalised, and not valued or understood within the school community.
A 2004 DfES research report Homophobia, Sexual Orientation and Schools: a Review and Implications for Action in its section on addressing homophobia studies which note
the importance of addressing schools’ predominantly ‘heteronormative’ cultures, which cajole, persuade or force pupils to conform to particular heterosexual identities and behaviours.
"Cajole", "force", "conform" are loaded words which assist in the opposition to Catholic schools promoting marriage and the family as the God-given and normative way in which children are born and raised.

The DfES also runs an online magazine "Teachers" which promotes the same policy in more trenchant terms. In the article Tackling Homophobia, the "Practical steps for a more LGB-friendly Secondary school" include
"ensure that PSHE openly and positively covers the whole range of relationship and family unit scenarios"
the rather worrying
"make sure that email filters don't block LGB-related words"
(What? Don't block any of them?) and
"finally, do not assume that everyone is heterosexual"
So here's how it works in practice. The DfES documents, formerly having the status of "guidance" come under the umbrella of OFSTED when it is inspecting schools, particularly in the area of the "Every Child Matters" agenda. Schools that do not comply with Government policy, framed by the DfES and enforced by OFSTED, get a poor judgement at their OFSTED report - which is then published to the world. It will not say "This school promotes family life and that is a bad thing". It will say that the school is unsatisfactory in tackling homophobic bullying and being positive about the whole range of relationship and family unit scenarios. This judgement could be made on the basis of a teacher's assuming that a child's female parent has a male partner. It will not matter if the school in fact has good discipline and a good record of tackling all sorts of bullying behaviour.
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