Walsall councillors seek assurances over school policy

Former pupil speaks of dangers of homophobia in schools.

Councillors are demanding to know if Walsall council knew an education trust operated its own version of the controversial, anti-gay, section 28 before it agreed to let it run a major school.

An ex-pupil, bullied because he was gay, has added his support toCllr Doug James who said recent revelations that Grace AcademyDarlaston operates a ‘no promotion of homosexuality’ policy amounted to afailure to combat discrimination suffered by young gays and lesbians.

Cllr James wants to know if Walsallcouncil knew of this policy when it decided to transfer the running of the
comprehensive to the trust in 2009. He is also demanding to know if thecouncil’s representative on the school governing board, deputy leader of thecouncil Adrian Andrew, has called on the trust to change their policy.

Cllr James is supported by former pupil, Ashley Lovell,bullied for his homosexuality, who said equality shouldn’t be limited by boundaries of sexuality or religion.

Ashley, 22, said he was bullied when other pupils guessed hewas gay. Saying no school should promote sexuality of any kind he added thoughthat singly out one group over another, was just as wrong. “Young kids can be cruel and will pick on others who are different. A school should protect victims by educating, explaining and teaching everyone deserves respect. But then to say,as part of your official policy, we will not ‘promote’ this way of life is, ineffect, saying it is wrong and kids shouldn’t be gay or lesbian. That just gives ammunition to the bullies and the bigots.

“It’s sad my old school has chosen to go down that path. I feel sorry for youngsters there who will be too afraid to say ‘I’m gay,’ who can’t trust their teachers, and I’m angry that nothing has been done about it. Instead, I’m told there is to be a big publicity campaign promoting the school when it opens its new building in September. So I ask, ‘Willthe official photographer airbrush out any bullied gay and lesbian pupils’?”
Grace Academy Darlaston, formerly Darlaston Comprehensive, was transferred to the Grace Academy Trust in 2009 in a controversial move which was opposed by parents, teachers, governors and local Labour Party councillors. Opposition stemmed from the fact the trust was run by Christian evangelical, multi millionaire and Conservative party donor Robert Edmiston; now Lord Edmiston.

The Trust said it would run the school on a ‘Christian ethos’ and there were fears over Lord Edmiston’s view that teaching Darwinism led children to ‘behave like monkeys.’  At the time, two public meetings for parents were overwhelming opposed and a petition against the transfer collected 200 signatures but Walsall council ignored the opposition and transferred the school following a short consultation.

Cllr James is now demanding to know if the council knew of the trust’s gay policy before it transferred the school. “Section 28 was forced on schools by Maggie Thatcher’s Tory Government and it demonised gay people and allowed official discrimination. Itwas rightly repealed by the Labour Government but the Grace Academy Trust has
voluntarily decided to operate its own version of what was rightly called a bigot’s charter. As a local councillor, I want to know what Walsall Council has done about this, what Cllr Andrew has done about this and if the councilwill apply the Equality Act which says its illegal to discriminate on thegrounds of race, sex, disability and sexuality – because equality isn’t equality if its only given to those you approve of.”