Peers seek to avoid school ‘indoctrination’ from hidden diversity materials

·3 min read
Schools could be forced to share diversity training materials with parents under a Lords amendment proposed by a former Education Secretary - Matthew Horwood/Getty
Schools could be forced to share diversity training materials with parents under a Lords amendment proposed by a former Education Secretary - Matthew Horwood/Getty

Schools could be forced to share diversity training materials with parents under a Lords amendment proposed by a former education secretary.

Parents say they are being denied access to contentious resources on areas such as race, transgender and sex education, often because external inclusion companies provide them.

Some families have reported headteachers citing an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act as to why they cannot see what is being taught to their children because it could “prejudice the commercial interests” of diversity groups.

Now, crossbench peers have tabled an amendment to the Schools Bill, the government’s flagship reform legislation currently going through Parliament, to close the “very big loophole” and avoid pupils being “indoctrinated”.

The amendment says: “Where parents request it, schools must allow parents to view all curriculum materials used in schools, including those provided by external third-party charitable and commercial providers.”

Government supports access

It adds that “schools must not withhold curriculum materials from parental view”, but can limit access to the school premises to satisfy concerns about commercial confidentiality.

A source close to Nadhim Zahawi, education secretary, said ministers are “very supportive of the idea of parents having access to the curriculum and materials” and support the “thrust” of the amendment.

However, ministers are meeting peers this week to assess whether schools can be reminded of their transparency duties without needing to change the law.

Government guidance on relationships and sex education makes clear that parents should have visibility of what is being taught to their children, such as the books used in lessons.

The Labour peer Baroness Morris of Yardley, a former education secretary, told the Lords last week: “It is in the area of contested facts and difficult things to teach that schools are most likely to turn to outside organisations to help.”

She added: “Whether we like it or not, we live at a time when there are lots of curriculum areas in which facts are not facts, and what we all assumed was appropriate to pass on to the next generation is now being contested.

“It is critical that giving ideas and words to the next generation is done with care, openness and the support of all the adults possible.”

Parents should know

Lord Sandhurst, a Conservative peer who tabled the amendment with Baroness Morris, added: “It is very important that parents should know what is being taught and, in particular, whether their children are in fact being indoctrinated … the content must be accurate and balanced.”

The Lords said that in one case, a parent of a primary school pupil asked her child’s school to ask to view curriculum papers for relationships and sex education, only for the headteacher to decline as they were exempt under Freedom of Information laws.

In another case the peers cited, a school asked an organisation to deliver their sex education papers, but the organisation said: “This is our intellectual property – it can’t be photocopied and shown to a third party,” and parents were considered a third party.

Similar concerns have been raised about trans groups telling teachers that gender can be self-identified and single-sex spaces should be opened up to trans pupils.

Brighton and Hove City Council was accused last year of withholding its contentious school “racial literacy training” from parents, which claimed children as young as seven are not “racially innocent” because they view “white at the top of the hierarchy”.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “It’s right that parents should have access to the curriculum and resources schools use with their children, especially in sensitive subjects such as [relationships, sex and health education].

“We welcome this challenge from peers and, as with all issues raised in the House, the department and ministers will consider whether further action is required.”