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LGBT teaching row: Boris Johnson urged to step in

Media captionHazel Pulley has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intervene

The boss of a primary school which faced protests over LGBT teaching has urged Boris Johnson to step in or risk further divisions in communities.

Hazel Pulley said Department for Education (DfE) guidance on how to teach equality issues was “too grey”.

“Saying that the teaching or raising awareness of LGBT people is up to head teacher’s autonomy is not acceptable,” Ms Pulley said.

The DfE is “working intensively with the school and parents”, it said.

Ms Pulley is chief executive of Excelsior, which runs four schools in Birmingham including Parkfield Community School, where dozens of people from the Muslim community have held protests over LGBT-themed books being used in lessons.

Protesters stated the subject matter contradicted the Islamic faith and that primary-age children were too young to be aware of same-sex relationships.

Ms Pulley told the BBC the school felt “extreme pressure” from the DfE to stop teaching their equality programme in March to keep the issue out of the media.

Image caption

Up to 250 parents and children gathered outside Parkfield Community School

The government and Schools Minister Nick Gibb have repeatedly denied forcing the school to halt the lessons.

However, Ms Pulley said it was agreed the No Outsiders programme would be suspended during “frantic phone calls” from DfE representatives.

“The DfE really wanted the protests to stop,” she said.

“I don’t think this had ever happened in schools in our country before where parents would stand outside a school and really shout using megaphones and keep children out.

“It was new and they wanted it out of the press.

“We suffered and experienced great pressure to suspend the programme.”

‘Extreme isolation’

No Outsiders, which includes books about two male penguins that raise a chick together and a boy who likes to dress up like a mermaid, will be resurrected at the school in September.

“It worried me because I felt that it was empowering parents to realise that if you shout and scream outside a school or [there’s] something you don’t agree with, you can stop it, but it also made it look like the school was doing something wrong, which it wasn’t,” added Ms Pulley.

The BBC has seen a letter to Birmingham MP Jess Phillips in which Mr Gibb states: “I am clear that at no point did officials from the department pressure the school into pausing or stopping the No Outsiders programme.”

The DfE told the BBC: “It is wrong to suggest that pressure has been applied to Parkfield to stop teaching about equality.

“Any suggestion that the dispute should be kept out of the media was absolutely not an attempt to silence the school, but a bid to bring an end to protests, encourage consultation and ensure tensions weren’t further inflamed by sensationalist coverage. “

Media captionWhat is in the books that Parkfield parents are protesting about?

Ms Pulley said she felt “extreme isolation” while dealing with the growing demonstrations and was “totally on my own to deal with something that was coming at us with great force”.

“I wanted support from agencies, from the DfE, saying the school was right, they’d made no mistake.”

Ms Pulley urged Mr Johnson to discuss the issue with her as soon as possible.

“If we don’t get this sorted now this is going to grow and community cohesion will become more of a challenge – it’s just going to get worse,” she said.

LGBT teaching row: Boris Johnson urged to step in}

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