By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
A couple of months ago, there were protests outside a primary school in Birmingham. The school is Parkfield Community School, which according to protesters was allegedly doing everything from teaching children to be gay, to making inappropriate models in art class. So what’s really been going on at Parkfield Community School?
Just before Easter, I emailed Andrew Moffat, the Assistant Headmaster at Parkfield who has been heading the No Ousiders programme, and asked if we could meet up to discuss it. We arranged to meet on 1st May in the new school term. Well, the 1st May arrived, and this is what I discovered.
Now, given some of the things I’ve read in the media, on Facebook, along with the messages concerned parents and community members sent to me and my colleagues at the Association of British Muslims, I was really beginning to wonder what was going on at Parkfield. I thought this must be very serious given the uproar in Alum Rock, Birmingham, with heated protests outside the school, there must be something that triggered all this. I went into the meeting with Andrew Moffat prepared to ask some tough questions, and expecting the school must be hiding something.
However, I found Andrew Moffat to be very friendly, and eager to answer my questions. Not only that, but he took the time to go through exactly what the school had been teaching in the No Outsiders programme. We spent one and a half hours going through his suitcase of children’s books with a fine toothed comb, looking for offensive or age inappropriate material. I couldn’t find any. The books are innocent; especially those aimed at Reception and Year 1 pupils. Far from being what I’d been told, the books had nothing in them that I found to be offensive. No where do the books discuss sex, sexuality, or anything a parent might be concerned with their child reading during those early years.
The most explicit thing I could find, was the mention that some families might have two mummies or two daddies – but the books don’t say why that might be, and if one speculates, there could be all sorts of reasons… Parents divorce and remarry, that can cause this situation too. The books don’t discuss the relationships between these mummies and daddies. Simply they mention or show that some families have two mummies or two daddies, so children will realise not all families are the same, and not to bully children who might have two mummies or two daddies. Seriously, what is offensive about that?
But the books that have identifiably LGBTQ characters are in fact few, most of the books are about self expression, being yourself, being confident, respecting and accepting people whoever they are and whatever activities they like to do, i.e. whether they like football, or pirates, or making things etc.
In addition, Andrew Moffat discussed topics used in No Outsiders assemblies, such as a refugee who had been adopted and supported to become an Olympic swimmer. Many of these topics had no connection with LGBTQ people at all, they were about Muslims, Jews, women, refugees, disabled people. Contrary to what I had heard, LGBTQ topics were very much in the minority in the programme. In addition, where this does come into the No Outsiders programme in later school years, the messaging is careful, subtle, and not explicit or offensive.
What I discovered, is the focus of the No Outsiders programme is on being respectful and inclusive towards everyone, which far from being something unislamic that Muslims should be avoiding, is in fact at the heart of Islam’s teachings. Our religion places a great deal of emphasis on ‘adab’, manners and respect, and teaches that everyone is our brother or sister, if not in faith then in humanity. I suggest we refocus on this point, and take another look at the No Outsiders programme, for from what I have seen, this is something everyone could benefit from. Indeed, we should have more of this type of programme, not less.
This whole episode reminds me of something I’ve witnessed too many times over the years, where people have listened to hearsay, or something they’ve read in a text or in a WhatsApp message from an unchecked source… Just because someone said something, or sent a text message, doesn’t mean it is true. We need to be more discerning than that. While everyone has a right to their own opinion, no one has a right to their own facts! When people start taking unfounded allegations as facts, it is a slippery slope, people who do that will end up believing anything, no matter how outrageous.
Our children deserve better than to have their education interrupted because of unfounded allegations, and people believing things that just don’t stand up upon closer examination. Let’s do right by our children, and ensure they all get the wholesome inclusive education to which they are entitled.