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Probe into school’s ‘anti-gay’ policy

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  • Apologetic headteacher blames ‘old policy’ on school website
  • Scandal follows PM’s 2009 “We got it wrong” apology

 

A HAVERFORDWEST school is being investigated by the Welsh Government after its website was found to carry an unlawful policy on teaching pupils about homosexuality.

Tasker Milward school in Haverfordwest, which has over 1000 students, was one of a number of schools in the UK identified as having a published policy which breached the 2010 Equality Act.

The policy statement echoed the notorious Section 28 brought in by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1988, which outlawed the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools. In 2003, Section 28 was repealed and the 2010 Equality Act made discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation an offence.

Tasker Milward’s policy stated it: “[did] not prevent teachers from addressing issues of homosexuality in the classroom in a neutral and unbiased manner; however, the local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material which actively promotes homosexuality.”

The policy’s presence on the school’s website was described by campaigners as “simply unacceptable” and the Welsh Government confirmed it was “concerned” and investigating as “a matter of urgency”.

Stonewall advertising boardThe school has stated that the policy dated from 2008, was an old one that had not been in operation and that an oversight led to the policy not being deleted from the school’s website.

The school has not explained how a policy directly referring to legislation repealed in 2003 was placed on its website five years later. All bar one other policy accessible on the school website carry a date of 16 January 2013.

The school has apologised for any offence caused.

An investigation by the British Humanist Association led to the revelation that 45 schools either published policies that replicated Section 28 or had policy documents that were “overly vague” on the issue. The British Humanist Association (BHA), campaigns against faith education.

BHA spokeswoman Pavan Dhaliwal said schools in question must urgently review their policies to ensure all pupils were treated with equal respect and understanding.

She said: “It is simply unacceptable that over a decade after the repeal of the pernicious Section 28 that these schools continue to enforce similar policies, while others have statements which are overly vague on this matter.”

The BHA first started investigating after a policy at Colston Girls’ School in Bristol was brought to their attention.

In total, the BHA found 20 policies where it believes there is something clearly offensive, a further 22 that still seem to imply that Section 28 might some way be in force and three that are otherwise vague.

There are no national curriculum guidelines on sex education and details of lessons are left to individual schools to draw up. However schools are required to comply with the Equality Act, forbidding any discrimination.  There are fears that faith schools launched under the Coalition Government’s controversial ‘Academy’ system are seeking to circumvent the law and breach the Act.

After Tasker Milward School’s policy was made public, the Welsh Government said on Twitter: “We are investigating this as a matter of urgency.”

Introduced in 1988, Section 28 of the Local Government Act banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and said that schools “could not promote of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

Section 28 was repealed in England and Wales in 2003 and in Scotland in 2000.

Officials at the UK Department for Education (DfE) launched a separate investigation from the Welsh Government yesterday.

On Tuesday, the Chairman of the Commons Education Committee urged for ministers to update SRE guidelines. Conservative MP Graham Stuart said: “It looks like an echo from the past. It looks as if schools have just copied that wording from years ago, before Section 28 was revoked, rather than with any deliberate intent.”

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said: “All children and young people in Wales should receive inclusive Sex and Relationships Education.

“It is extremely important that young people are taught in a way that does not subject them to discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 is very clear on this.

“Our guidance to schools provides definitive advice about the teaching of all aspects of relationships and specific sexual health and well-being issues such as sexual orientation.

“Teachers should deal with sexual orientation honestly, sensitively and in a non-judgemental way. The needs of every learner must be met and schools should encourage open discussion, promote inclusion and challenge inequalities.

“We will be reminding all schools of our guidance and their responsibilities.”

A Pembrokeshire County Council spokesman said: “The Sex Education policy on the Tasker Milward school website was an old policy not in operation and which had not been deleted.

“The school does have a current Strategic Equality Plan, further details of which can be obtained directly from the school.

“The headteacher, Maggie Haynes, apologises for any distress that the failure to remove the old policy from the website may have caused.”

Tasker Milward is the same school where WikiLeaks whistle blower Bradley Manning attended while living in Wales with his mother. As a 13-year-old pupil at the school, he is said to have questioned his sexuality before later coming out as openly gay.

Wes Steeting, head of education at Stonewall, said: “We need to see very clear guidance about the importance of tackling homophobic bullying and the promotion of a curriculum that is inclusive.”

Former pupil Hywel ap Dafydd, 34, said: “It’s thoroughly disheartening that some two decades after I first came out my old secondary school still advertises Section 28 on its website almost a decade after it was repealed.

“In the 7 years I attended Tasker Milward I was constantly victimised about my sexuality, often in front of teachers who ignored it, receiving little support with the exception of my friends and a few notable teachers. My distress was clearly visible and even though I was once discovered crying with a knife at my wrist, no real effort was made to address my problems.

“I would like to believe that in the 20 years since,, the school might have understood the concept of Pastoral Care but in light of this latest oversight I wonder just how much has changed and how many other pupils have suffered the same neglect that I did?”

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Crabb backs veterans of Irish Troubles

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VETERANS of the Northern Irish Troubles have been backed by Preseli MP Stephen Crabb during votes in the House of Commons.

In the absence of a functioning administration in Northern Ireland, Members of Parliament have been voting in an effort to keep Northern Ireland running.

Stephen Crabb co-sponsored an amendment put forward by Johnny Mercer MP which passed. The Secretary of State must now report on the options available to allow veterans of the Troubles to assist in a truth recovery process, for the benefit of bereaved families, without fear of prosecution.

Commenting following the vote, Stephen Crabb MP said: “This is a positive step towards ensuring the hounding of veterans is stopped. The proud, local veteran community, along with myself, have been deeply troubled by the ongoing pursuit of current and former British Soldiers for actions carried out while under orders on active service.

“I have made the point previously to Ministers that we risk a serious breach of trust with our Armed Forces by opening the door to such prosecutions. The pressures placed on a solder in conflict situations are enormous and it cannot be right that actions carried out in these circumstances are re-opened decades later by people with no understanding of what happened on the ground.“

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Identical ‘call-out’ within three days for Fishguard RNLI lifeboat

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FISHGUARD RNLI inshore lifeboat launched on Thursday evening 18 July to the very same inflatable dinghy they rescued on Monday July 15

The inshore lifeboat and three volunteer crew launched at 8.45pm after the inflatable was reported drifting out to sea from Fishguard harbour. The flimsy inflatable and the young men onboard were taken under tow back to the area of Goodwick beach and they were again spoken to regarding the dangers of inflatable craft. On this occasion there was an off-shore wind and an ebbing tide which potentially presented much more dangerous conditions for the persons onboard.

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Rosslare ready to go it alone

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THE UK Government stands ready to revoke legislation governing the relationship between the ports of Fishguard and Rosslare.

The abolition of the current arrangements is a step closer according to Irish newspaper reports of a recent meeting between Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Fianna Fáil’s transport spokesperson Robert Troy and Wexford TD James Browne.

According to the reports, Mr Grayling told the Irish politicians that the UK has ‘no strategic or economic’ interest in keeping the ports’ governance structure.

The Irish Government, meanwhile, regards Rosslare as a major part of its Brexit plans and has acquired further land to provide additional facilities there.

The ports are governed by a UK Act of Parliament from 1888, which created the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbour Company.

The Act continued to govern the relationship between the Ports, even after most of Ireland secured its independence from the – then – British empire.

However, the old legislation has – in the view of Irish TD James Browne – hindered the Irish Government’s ability to expand activities at Rosslare to the benefit of the local and Irish economies.

Stena Line: Looking at the long term development of both ports

Fishguard and Rosslare ports are part of the one company, namely the Fishguard and Rosslare Railway and Harbours Company set up by an Act of Parliament.

Mr Browne explained to The Herald: “In effect, ownership of the port lies with UK government. But in turn the ports are effectively run as private companies: Irish Rail control and operate the Rosslare end and Stena control and operate the Fishguard side and there is an agreement in place as to the division of profits of the company.

“In Ireland, this complex and archaic ownership model has regularly been cited as an inhibiting factor in the development of the port. In short, no one will invest in a port whose ownership is unclear.”
The opportunity is not, however, all on one side, says the Wexford TD: “The decoupling of the two ports, and the transfer of Rosslare to Irish state ownership would free up both ports from this complex ownership model and allow investment in the ports.”

Mr Browne also highlighted the potential for growth in economic activity in West Wales’ closest trading neighbour: “Dublin Port is so busy that it is turning away business. Rosslare Port is in an ideal geographical location to attract shipping business and to take the pressure off of Dublin. Port. It, in turn, would act as an economic driver for the entire South East of Ireland.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb told us: Stephen: “The importance of the Fishguard – Rosslare ferry connection is unquestionable with 80% of all goods from Ireland passing through Welsh ports.
“However, the historic legal framework for the ports is outdated and does not give either side the freedom they need to develop and innovate. I can well understand why change is being sought at this time.

“I have met with the management on both sides of the Irish Sea to discuss Brexit planning and other aspects of the industry and will continue to do so.”

Ian Hampton, Chief People and Communications Officer, Stena Line said: “Stena Line hopes that by removing the historical legislation that governs the status of The Fishguard Rosslare Railways and Harbour Company it will enable Stena Line and the Irish Government to work closer together creating greater opportunity, such as the options for the long term development of both the respective ports.”

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