What is worse than laws banning schools from teaching a given political ideology? Answer: requiring a political view to be taught as correct to everyone without exception. Unfortunately this seems to be exactly what the Scottish government, with its Celtic penchant for bossing people around, has just said it wants to do.
Until its repeal in 2000 by the Scottish government, section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (often called “clause 28”) amended education law to forbid the teaching in any state school “of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. This was popular; it meant that from 2000 freedom prevailed, with the matter up to individual governing bodies as it had before 1988.
This year, following a report from a working group led by a campaigning pressure group called Time for Inclusive Education (TIE), the Scottish government has firmly stated that in its view any such freedom is unacceptable.
As soon as guidance and legislation can be put in place, the announcement runs, teachers will be not only allowed but required to teach pupils of all ages to value LGBTI identities (whatever they are), to promote the stories of LGBTI activists and campaigners, and to do this not only in PSE but throughout the curriculum.
It is essentially allowing a self-appointed campaign group to dictate education policy from the back row.
In edu-bureaucrat-speak, there must be “LGBTI specific curriculum benchmarks within targeted curricular areas, in collaboration with existing partners of the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group and including LGBTI organisations, schools, and teachers”.
And no backsliding either. All Scottish teacher training and on-the-job continuing education must promote the same end; any opt-out by faith schools or others must be firmly stopped; and government must be watching over all educators’ shoulders to make sure they comply.
Whatever your views on the LGBTI movement and what young people should know about it, this is a very worrying development.
For one thing, it is essentially allowing a self-appointed campaign group to dictate education policy from the back row (remember, it has been stated that LGBTI organisations must be involved in dictating the curriculum, and it is clearly TIE they have in mind).
You may agree with TIE or not, but you can’t get away from the fact that it is a pressure-group with a very definite agenda: its leaders are two messianic LGBTI activists, and its supporters include the left-wing human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, a man with little time for anyone who for conscientious or other reasons disagrees with his views. That such a group should be at the top table, able to dictate to elected education authorities, is to say the least difficult to square with democracy.
For another, while promoted, like most sex education, as a response to the need to combat ignorance among those at school, this goes a good deal further. If you look at the materials produced for schools by TIE, they are promoted for use not only in PSE or its equivalent, but in lessons on languages, social studies, religion, technology, science and even maths.
Now, it is true that from one point of view questions of sexuality may come into all these subjects: the fact that an Army officer in 2008 underwent gender reassignment could be important to biology, and so too the first BBC transgender sitcom in 2014, Boy meets Girl, might have some relevance for people studying expressive arts. But this is only one point of view, and a tendentious one at that.
A more balanced view might well be that famous people’s sex and personal lives are actually peripheral to the more important things that made them famous. Oscar Wilde matters to the English curriculum because he was a splendidly deft and elegant wordsmith, not because he spent two years in prison following a bad-tempered spat with the Marquess of Queensberry over a gay relationship with his son.
Famous people’s sex lives are actually peripheral to the more important things that made them famous.
The reason to remember Alan Turing in maths is his invention of the principles of modern computing rather than his tragic suicide in 1954 following a conviction for gross indecency. In Health and Wellbeing, Billie Jean King is far more productively remembered as a tennis player rather than a lesbian; and so on. To require such matters to be specifically taught as significant, amounts, if anything, to an unbalancing, not a balancing, of the curriculum.
Thirdly, making teachers concentrate as a matter of law on the perceived disadvantages faced by yet another group of perceived underdogs (predictably, the proposals require great efforts to log such matters as anti-LGBTI bullying and eliminate language thought to be homophobic or transphobic) will have the usual effect of any concentration on one particular characteristic. It will leave less resources for dealing with problems elsewhere and lessen the emphasis on them.
In saying that anti-LGBTI bullying is unacceptable and needs to be suppressed, TIE and the Scottish Government are perfectly correct. But the same goes, or should go, for all bullying. A victim is a victim: he deserves the support of teachers whatever the cause. There is no reason to think that anti-LGBTI bullying is any worse than any other (for example, bullying because of a lack of interest in football, or because the victim is seen as teacher’s pet). All need dealing with: a government requirement to concentrate on one at the expense of another it is about as unfair as one can get.
One final irony is that this whole exercise in magisterial micromanagement only applies to state schools. The smug well-heeled bien-pensants who provide what intellectual backing the SNP can muster, safe in Morningside or Pollokshields with their children tucked up in Stewart’s Melville or Glasgow Academy, can rest assured that their young will continue to be educated with the balance that used to mark out Scots education as a whole.
It is ordinary Scots who will now be forced to see their children indoctrinated with a particular political and moral view, whether they approve of it or not, and incidentally despite any opposition from the councillors they elect to oversee their children’s education. As ever, it’s likely to be the poor who are hit hardest by the instincts of the SNP for social experimentation and telling people what to do.
(Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of commercial law at a well-known UK university, who also teaches in Europe and elsewhere. In the 2001 General Election he stood as UKIP’s candidate in Bath)