“There were lots of different families there- some with one Mum, two dads, a mum and dad, foster children etc. Everyone was welcome!"

This is an extract from a lesson plan drawn up for the No Outsiders programme, which has been at the centre of a high-profile and heated debate.

Some parents of children at Parkfield School in Saltley, Birmingham, have objected to No Outsiders. It was reported that up to 600 pupils were withdrawn from the primary school last week as parents held a protest.

And they are not alone.

Parkfield School is in the Hodge Hill constituency. But Shabana Mahmood, the MP for Ladywood, says that 50 parents turned up at an advice surgery to express concern about Relationship and Sex Education at three schools in her constituency.

Both Ms Mahmood and Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne say parents support the idea that everyone should be treated equally, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

But parents are upset, the MPs say, because lessons are being taught without sufficient consultation. And parents also feel, according to the MPs, that children are being taught about these issues at too young an age.

The lesson plan quoted above was designed for children in key stage one, which means children between five and seven.

It was drawn up by Andrew Moffatt, assistant head teacher at Parkfield, although it was designed as an aid for teachers at any school using the No Outsiders programme.

Andrew Moffat, assistant headteacher at Parkfield Community School
Andrew Moffat, assistant headteacher at Parkfield Community School

In this lesson, pupils read a book called Picnic in the Park. A teacher will then lead a discussion and point out that lots of different families turned up to the picnic, and they were all welcome.

The lesson plan illustrates an important point, which is that although we talk about Relationship and Sex Education, this does not mean very young children are being taught about sex.

Teachers are not expected to discuss the physical aspect of a relationship when talking about two daddies any more than they would when talking about a mummy and a daddy.

No Outsiders isn’t just about LGBT issues. It focuses on what are known as “protected characteristics”, which include disability, faith, race and gender.

 

One lesson plan teaches the children a little bit about sign language, while another discusses the idea that there are no “boys’ toys” and no “girls’ toys”, because any child can play with any toy.

However, it seems clear that it’s the LGBT aspect of the programme that some parents object to.

It can’t be easy for the MPs caught in the middle of this debate.

Specific storybooks read during No Outsiders lessons at Parkfield Community School
Specific storybooks read during No Outsiders lessons at Parkfield Community School

But sometimes you have to pick a side. And although the MPs are trying hard to sit on the fence they are, in practice, coming down on the side of the parents.

Parents who object to these lessons in Birmingham come from the Muslim community, as Mr Byrne and Ms Mahmood made clear when they spoke in a recent House of Commons debate.

Muslims are not unique in expressing concerns. As Ms Mahmood correctly pointed out, some Orthodox Jews (mainly in London) have been resisting attempts by inspectors Ofsted to pressure private Jewish schools into teaching pupils about sexual orientation and transgender issues.

As she also said, there are observant Jews from might be called the "modern, progressive and reform end of the Jewish community" who may take a very different view - and the same differences of opinion exist among Muslims, and among Christians.

 

So this isn’t all about Islam. But it is about religion.

Ms Mahmood has been criticised for some of her comments in that debate. Her argument was complex, but the gist of it was that the right of every minority must be respected, and this includes people with conservative religious beliefs.

She said: “It has been a real problem for parents to get a fair hearing about genuinely held religious conviction in an atmosphere that sometimes does not feel tolerant of religious beliefs.”

Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood
Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood

And she said parents must have a legal right to withdraw children from sex and relationship lessons, saying: “Without any arbitration mechanism or protection for those of us at the unfashionable end of the faith spectrum, in orthodox religious communities - I am an orthodox Muslim - whenever there is a conflict about rights, everybody feels it is okay to ride roughshod over orthodox communities and push them to one side.”

While she insists that the parents she refers to “absolutely sign up to the equalities agenda”, it also seems clear that they don’t want their children to be taught about LGBT issues at such a young age, and that she feels these views should be respected.

In a later blog post, Ms Mahmood said: “The parents wanted to be included in the conversation about how their kids would be taught, and at what stage.

“It was not a conversation about picking and choosing which bits they were taught, but about how best to inform and educate their children from four and up.”

 

Mr Byrne, in his speech, also insisted that parents “are passionate about the Equality Act and are as determined to tackle homophobia as Islamophobia”.

But he then appeared to say that schools should respect the right of parents to object to their children being taught about relationships at a young age.

Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Hodge Hill

He said: “We have to respect the right of parents to be the principal educators of their children with respect to relationships education. Decisions about the age-appropriateness of material have to be made in the ​open, not behind closed doors.”

The trouble is that there is a clear choice.

Either you believe every child should be taught from a young age that some people are in same-sex relationships - and that it's okay to be in such a relationship - or you think it should be up to parents whether the children are taught this or not.

Ms Mahmood and Mr Byrne have chosen the second position.