Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by the New Family Social (MB 115)

Summary

New Family Social (NFS) is the UK charity for LGBT adoptive and foster families. 

We believe that all schools should be inclusive about the diverse families that make up their school community. This would include children with single parents, same-sex parents and separated parents as well as children with carers other than their parents. This is particularly important to help adopted and fostered children feel positive and confident about their families, and to prevent bullying of children who's parents are LGBT, or who may be LGBT themselves. 

In March 2013, NFS surveyed its members on their views and experiences of the school system. The sample size was 137 people. The results suggest that while experiences are on the whole good, significant problems exist for these families.

The shared experiences of the respondents, and the views expressed, show that it is vital that no protection is lost in how our relationships and families are discussed in schools. In any debate about the freedoms afforded to adults, we feel strongly that the well being of children should be considered of paramount importance. 

94 % of respondents felt that their child would be negatively affected if amendments to the Equalities Act 2010, or to other acts, gave a teacher the freedom to express the view  that " the teacher is personally against two people of the same sex marrying ".  

97% of respondents felt it was very important that individual teachers follow a school's advertised diversity policy in relation to sexuality

1. Applications process

· 56% of respondents checked school’s diversity policies when applying for schools.

· 20% of respondents said they experienced a negative reaction from schools they considered because of their sexuality.

· 23% of respondents said that they found it difficult to find a school for their child that they felt would be fully inclusive of their family.

Some experiences shared by respondents:

Our daughter was allocated a catholic primary school place last year. On finding this out we arranged a meeting with the head teacher. We asked how they would deal with the fact that our daughter had two mommies? There response was that it would "not be promoted or condoned with in there school" I went on to ask how they would deal with a topic such as families and if the children had to send in photos for a display... We were told that they would not be able to display our family photos. Needless to say we joined a waiting list for another local school and were lucky enough to gain a place. Had we not of gotten a place we would of home educated our daughter rather than her social and emotional health being affected by such views

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We had a choice of two schools and one of the schools we found that the Head did not find it easy to talk to both of us face to face. When asking questions on same sex parents/issues the Head appeared unprepared, and wanted to avoid the subject.

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We met with the head and discussed how she and the school would support out children's needs as adopted children and as the children of 2 mummies. We felt this helped lay the foundation for a healthy relationship with the school should any difficulties arise.

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I experienced a very poor feedback from the Catholic school in our area, 'we would not recognise you as his parents, but we would pray for you'. We sent our boys to Church of England Primary School, that has been wonderful.

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The main reason why sexuality wasn't an issue for our son to be admitted to school is that looked-after children get priority placements. Having said that, it was clear when heads were trying to put us off. We went to one CofE school where the headteacher clearly told us that for parents' consultations it would be best if only one of us turned up as the rest of the parents "held certain views". She also suggested that only one of us did the drop-off / pick up. We'd rather have our son home educated than send him to such a school.

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The school we chose for our eldest son was out of our catchment area but recommended by his headmaster. We worked hard with social workers reports, meeting the school, letters of recommendation from his headmaster and therapist to secure him a place. There were a few embarrassing conversations with various school employees as they had never had a same sex family in before - on a couple of times we let themselves dig a bigger hole and get redder and redder in the face until we rescued them - but we never felt it was deliberate but just down to the fact they hadnt been in the situation before and where struggling to be appropriate, sensitive and understanding.

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We felt that the COE school we applied to was covertly homophobic. We were glad that they were somewhat open about their prejudice - so that we could avoid them!

2. Experience at school

· 29% of members feel that their sexuality has had a detrimental effect on their child’s treatment at school.

· 14% of members, or their children, have experienced a negative reaction from teachers or other staff at school because of their sexuality.

· 15% of members, or their children, have experienced a negative reaction from other parents at school because of their sexuality.

· 27% of members’ children had experienced a negative reaction from other children at school because of their sexuality.

Some experiences shared by respondents:

We live in London and felt we had a limited choice in searching for a quality state school that would appropriately support our son with any issues that might arise for him. We decided on an independent school which has proved to be a great choice. It promotes an inclusive community and we feel very at home and know our son has been helped and encouraged to take pride in who he is and his life story - he has a cohort for whom same-sex parents are just another kind of family and who know that any questions rue elcomed and honestly answered. We recently adopted another baby and we feel celebrated by the staff, other parents & pupils. Deciding to invest resources in private schooling is paying dividends.

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On two separate occasions our youngest has been called homophobic names at school - the nastiest for us was when a girl told him that an adopted child could never have a good family and that having two Dads meant that his family would always be second rate. This so obviously came from parents through the child - sadly the child's mother was a receptionist at the school. The school reacted very quickly and spoke to both mother and child and the girl wrote a letter to apologies. The other occasion was when 1 child encouraged 2 others to call our son nasty , homophobic names which left our son in tears. Again the school reacted very quickly, called in the parents concerned and it hasn't happened since.

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Homophobia at my childrens' school is largely subtle and unspoken. There are key members of staff who clearly work hard to be aware of what they are saying and doing, to be welcoming and supportive. However, other staff do little to hide their 'disdain' of the fact that I'm gay - and a parent. The worst effect is when other parents curtail their childrens' friendship with my children; after an initial presumption that I'm straight, I can spot the moment when they 'realise what's going on'. I work in a primary school as well and I've definitely been treated with suspicion until proven 'safe'. All unspoken, so its all virtually impossible to challenge.

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Our children have attended state primary and secondary schools in South London. We were always braced for negative reactions about our sexuality as a male same-sex couple with two adopted sibling boys. It never came. We were never aware of any issues with other parents, with teachers, with school management or with other children. All of our children's schools have overt anti-homophobic bullying policies and we felt supported by staff. We have never had to put these policies to the test.

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My children's school is a church of England school and the reverend from the local parish is a governor at the school. The reverend performs worship and has had quiet a lot of contact with my two children, consequently my children expressed a desire to be baptised something that we hadn't considered but pursued because it was what our children wanted, we also thought it would be a positive thing for them having recently had our celebration day and changing their surnames to our family name. I approached the school with regards to the reverend baptising our children and they asked if they could get back to me. The head of the school called me in and informed me not to contact the reverend as he didn't recognise our same sex family and wouldn't baptise our children and if we did find somewhere that did we would have to ask his permission.

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Our eldest son is now at secondary school, our youngest is still in our local village Church school which has always been very supportive of our family and had been open to learn about a different family setup. I was asked to work at the school by the head who consisted my abilities to be ideal for her school. We regularly socialise at school events and integrate thoroughly with every other family.

3. Attitudes towards teachers’ freedom of expression

· 97% of respondents felt it was very important that individual teachers follow a school's advertised diversity policy in relation to sexuality

· 94% of respondents felt their child would be negatively affected if amendments to the Equalities Act 2010, or to other acts, gave a teacher the freedom to express the view that "the teacher is personally against two people of the same sex marrying".

· 97% of respondents felt that their child would be negatively affected if amendments to the Equalities Act 2010, or to other acts, gave a teacher the freedom to express the view "that heterosexual marriage is the best form of relationship".

Some comments from respondents

To a primary school aged child there is no distinction between the policy of the school and the personal opinions of the teachers. My children believe everything their teacher tells them. For their teacher to suggest to them that their parent’s relationship is in any way second rate would be very distressing for them.

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I am a teacher myself in a CoE school - all members of staff have been positive in our process of adopting twice. It is important that same-sex relationship are given equal standing to that of straight people otherwise we and our children will consistently be seen as inferior and second class citizens.

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If it came from their teacher it may well be devastating. Because of their troubled background, the stability they feel in their family is even more important. Also as their parents, we would be forced to show we disagree with the teacher, and we think they are ignorant, and I imagine there would be discipline issues from then on. Who is going to listen to a teacher that doesn't like their mum, and who their mum thinks is ignorant?

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A school's diversity policy should be exactly that and teachers should ensure that they do not promote one kind of relationship over another. There are so many kinds of families these days that to promote a heterosexual one as the ideal would be damaging to many children, not just ones of gay couples.

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A teacher with racist opinions would not be able to express views on race and mixed race relationships or children. This would have happened in the past.

March 2013

Prepared 13th March 2013