Hundreds of Muslim kids kept off Manchester school in protest at sex education teaching

0ver 300 Muslim children were kept off school for three days last week in a protest about “age-inappropriate sex education teaching” in a Manchester primary.

Parents withdrew their kids from Birchfields Primary School in Fallowfield, Manchester, last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday over concerns about LGBTQ and other sexual content being taught in lessons.

5Pillars understands that a huge proportion of parents have lost trust in the school leadership because of what they perceive to be a lack of consultation.

Some parents even told us that they have been prevented from organising meetings with venues cancelling at the last minute under pressure from local authorities.

Following the protest, Manchester City Council has threatened parents with fines and reminded them of their responsibility to make sure their children attend school.

Thay have said “curriculum concerns are not an acceptable reason for keeping your child off school.”

5Pillars approached Birchfields Primary School, which has an overwhelming majority-Muslim intake among its near 700 pupils, for comment but they did not reply to us.

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Mohammed Sajjad, from a group of more than 200 concerned parents, wrote to Birchfields on June 10, complaining that the school had shown age-inappropriate content to young children without the consent of parents.

This included a video called “Willa’s Story” in which a 7 year old boy explains why he has transitioned into a girl. The video, which was shown to young children last year, has since been withdrawn by the school.

Mr Sajjad told the school: “This is not a form of action that has been taken lightly… ‘Birchfields Primary School – Parents Unity’ has been established and is acting on behalf of concerned parents who feel their voices are not being heard and they are being marginalised…

“The school continues to disregard several issues, one of the main being RSE. We appreciate that Relationship Education is compulsory in all primary schools in England however Sex Education is not.”

Willa’s Story

Mr Sajjad, who says parents are not homophobic, transphobic or anti-LGBT, went onto say that parents had not been consulted properly by the school, and as English is not the first language for many parents they do not understand the confusing “educational jargon” conveyed to them.

He added: “In respect of RSE, the school has unfortunately chosen to take a backward step this year and not make parents aware when the material is being taught. Furthermore, the ‘Willa’ video that was shown last year was taught outside RSE and in PSHE. Unfortunately the school decided it was not required to inform parents of the video shown which has led to many parents losing trust in the school.

“Birchfields Primary School – Parents Unity would like to review all LGBTQ+ material under the Freedom of Information 2000. We kindly request ALL teaching of the material to be put on hold until a solution is reached. This has been requested previously but to no avail, I hope now it is treated with the seriousness it requires.

“Although the ‘Willa’ video has been removed, our concern is the decision-making process behind the video into the curriculum and how it was selected, as we feel this process was inadequate and not thought through. We want to make sure such content doesn’t make it into classrooms without being fully verified and agreed upon…

“A large proportion of the parents at Birchfields Primary School have lost all trust with the school, which is a real safeguarding issue. The school should be a reflection of the community it represents, at the moment, parents feel the school is not. Which we feel is a tremendous failing by the school to recognise. We agree that the pupils should be able to understand the world in which they are growing up however this should also consider the community it represents.”

Among other things, concerned parents are now demanding:

  • An all-parent meeting with the School/Governors to address these issues.
  • Parent consultation on what material is deemed age appropriate.
  • All LGBT material to be restricted to RSE.
  • Parent representatives to sit in on RSE/PSHE lessons to ensure the material being taught is done in a professional unbiased manner.

Manchester City Council

Following the school boycott, parents were sent a letter by Manchester City Council on Friday threatening them with fines if their children did not attend school.

Paul Marshall, from the council’s Children and Families Directorate, said: “I am writing to remind all parents and carers that it is your legal responsibility to ensure your child attends every day it is open. Curriculum concerns are not an acceptable reason for keeping your child off school and will be classed as unauthorised absence.

“Continued absence could lead to further action by the school, including the issue of penalty notices (fines) for each period of absence.

“We understand that some parents have concerns about aspects of the curriculum being taught in school. Please note however, that relationships education is compulsory in all primary schools in England and is not something schools can opt out of.

“As always, we are committed to working with you in this and to addressing any concerns you may have and continue to do so. As parents and teachers, I thinks we all want the same thing for our children – for them to thrive, to succeed, and to be happy in their lives.”

On its website, Birchfield headteacher Samantha Offord says equality, respect, resilience, honesty, good health and kindness are at the core of everything the school does.

She adds: “We are an inclusive school where all are treated equally and given equality of opportunity regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

“Everyone benefits from a diverse, inclusive, rich, broad, balanced curriculum that is presented in an interesting, exciting and imaginative manner with lots of opportunities for first-hand experience, practical work, investigation and learning through play.”

Meanwhile, educator Yusuf Patel, of SRE Islamic, told 5Pillars that the Muslim community and parents need to push back when LGBTQ identities are being imposed by schools on Muslim children.

He said: “This kind of thing is happening more and more. Schools are jumping over themselves to prove that they are pro-diversity but that diversity seems to emphasise LGBTQ identities and doesn’t take into account that there are Muslim pupils who also have a protected characteristic and should be treated with respect. Schools are forcing a hierarchy of equality where sexual orientation and gender is at the top and faith and belief is at the bottom.

“But one of our biggest problems is that Muslim parents do not push back often enough. If they did then schools would re-think or think twice about what they do in these sessions.”

He added: “I would advise parents and the local Muslim community to get organised and involved and liaise with the school… and this could yield a positive result.”

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