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BHA: Welsh Government investigation concludes Catholic schools likely broke the law in promoting anti-same sex marriage petition

A Welsh Government investigation into recent news that the Catholic Education Service (CES) encouraged schools to promote a petition against same-sex marriage has concluded that this led to schools breaking laws on political balance. The Government has also asked that any schools which promoted the petition now make pupils aware of ‘the converse view’. The British Humanist Association (BHA), who were the first to suggest these laws may have been broken, has welcomed the findings.

Sections 406-7 of the Education Act 1996 forbids ‘the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school’, and requires balanced treatment of political issues. In March, the CES wrote to all Catholic secondary schools in England and Wales, asking them to draw attention to a letter against same sex marriage from the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark which was read out at Sunday Mass on 11 March, and to a petition against same sex marriage from the Coalition for Marriage.

In a written statement, Welsh Minister for Education and Skills Leighton Andrews sets out that the Education Act has likely been broken, and that he has written to all Catholic secondary address this. In his letter to Catholic schools, Mr Andrews explains that ‘Whilst the petition itself is not directly related to a party political matter it does in my view relate to political matters generally as the petition is seeking to persuade people to lobby the Westminster Government to prevent a change in the law… I trust you will ensure that if your pupils have been made aware of this correspondence they will also be made aware of the converse view in order to give them a balanced perspective.’

The BHA wrote to Mr Andrews on the 26 April about this matter, and welcomed the news later that day of the investigation. BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are pleased to see that the Welsh Government is in agreement with our own conclusions on this matter. This seems to us to be one of the most clear-cut examples of political indoctrination in schools that has ever been seen. We hope that the UK Government investigation reaches the same conclusion.’

However, the Welsh Government also concluded that the CES’s communications with schools did not break the Equality Act 2010, as ‘Whilst schools are free to employ the materials provided as suggested, it is incumbent on them to do so in a balanced way’ – and not incumbent on the CES. Mr Thompson continued, ‘It seems to us to be likely that many schools will have stepped across the line and broken equalities law, as well as the law on political balance. The school in the original story, for example, described marriage and civil partnership as “unnatural”. Such behaviour is clearly going to leave LGBT pupils feeling victimised by their schools, trapped in a hostile environment. This is a very sad state of affairs.’

 

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 0781 55 89 636.

Read sections 406-7 of the Education Act 1996, regarding political indoctrination and requirement for balance: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/56/part/V/chapter/IV/crossheading/politics

Read section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, regarding public sector equality duty: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/149

Read PinkNews.co.uk’s initial story, Catholic school ‘urged pupils as young as 11 to sign anti-gay marriage petition’, 25 April 2012: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/04/25/exclusive-catholic-school-urged-pupils-as-young-as-11-to-sign-anti-gay-marriage-petition/

Read the BHA’s first press release, BHA: Catholic Education Service has likely broken multiple laws in pushing anti-same sex marriage petition on pupils, 25 April 2012: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1026

Read the press release, BHA welcomes Welsh government probe into Catholic schools promoting anti-same sex marriage petition, 26 April 2012: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1028

Read more about the BHA’s work on Sex and Relationships Education: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/sex-and-relationships-education

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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