‘The most important thing is about tolerance and acceptance, rather than waving our flags around’
How Birmingham teacher Andrew Moffat adapted LGBT-inclusive No Outsiders for religious communities
By Daniel J. McLaughlin, producer of The Out Crowd
I had the privilege of attending the launch of Pride in Trafford last week, live blogging the event for the Manchester Evening News.
The opening event, taking place outside of Sale Town Hall, featured a performance by the children of Park Road Primary School from the local area.
I reflected that, at their age, it would have been illegal for schoolchildren to perform at an LGBTQ event under the draconian law of Section 28.
And it made me think back to the first series of The Out Crowd, our podcast that looks at what it means to be queer today.
Many of our guests referred to those days where the “promotion of homosexuality” was banned in the classroom by the Thatcher government.
The anti-LGBTQ+ law was finally lifted in 2003, but as I progressed through the education system in the mid-2000s, there was still a hungover from Section 28.
It was an incredibly confusing time as a young bisexual man, and I was left to learn about the LGBTQ community from books, TV programmes, and films.
So it always fills my heart with joy when I hear that teachers today have begun to incorporate equality for the queer community into their lesson plans.
When I launched The Out Crowd with Joe Ali last year, the first guest on my radar was Andrew Moffat, the teacher and creator of the No Outsiders curriculum.
And as we found out in the episode, it has not been all plain sailing, and even now, there are difficulties in balancing inclusive education with the strong viewpoints of parents.
The Out Crowd: Teaching acceptance and inclusivity with 'No Outsiders' teacher Andrew Moffat
Parkfield School in Birmingham hit the headlines in 2019 when it was met with religious protests against the No Outsiders curriculum, created by then-assistant headteacher Andrew Moffat.
In the The Out Crowd, the openly gay teacher tells host Joe Ali how he handled the abuse he received against his No Outsiders programme, and how he subsequently adapted it for religious communities at his school.
Andrew, who was awarded an MBE in 2017 for his work in equality and diversity in education, had previously reached backlash against his inclusive lessons earlier in his career.
The 49-year-old teacher says that he learnt from his time teaching his ‘Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools’ programme at Chilwell Croft school in Birmingham.
“It hadn’t been done before, really. There was no test case,” he explains.
“I am sure there were LGBT teachers who were out in the 2000s, but I didn’t know of any. I knew of three in opposite ends of the country.
“There were no studies that I was aware of. It was new, it was difficult for primary schools.”
Responding to accusations that he was teaching “gay lessons”, Andrew said: “They weren’t gay lessons, they weren’t teaching children how to be gay.
“The lessons were about teaching children about difference, and using books about LGBT characters.
“I feel like I didn’t help the situation. I was a bit like a bull in a china shop in that school, not helpful. I learnt from that experience to write No Outsiders.”
“There is no hierarchy of difference”
After coming out at his previous school, facing backlash from primarily the Muslim community, Andrew decided that’s where he needed to be: making his inclusive education accessible to all communities.
He joined Parkfield School in Birmingham, with children from Muslim backgrounds making up 95 per cent of the student population. He rewrote his old lesson plans, scrapping ‘Challenging Homophobia’ for ‘No Outsiders’ with a specific aim to bring a community with him.
Andrew held 11 meetings with the “brilliant” and “respectful” parents at Parkfield, and although he says it could be “quite difficult” at times, the parents wanted to work with the school on No Outsiders.
The No Outsiders resource was first piloted by Andrew at Parkfield in 2014, before being published for other schools in 2015.
He said that his new teaching resource had improved, because instead of focusing on one aspect of diversity, he covered all areas equally.
“I think, in my experience, it’s the way to do it in primary schools, because you’re wrapping it up in lessons or an ethos about diversity, difference, and inclusion,” he tells the podcast.
“In a primary school, you don’t have ‘On Monday, it’s the race lesson; on Tuesday, it’s the religion lesson; on Wednesday, it’s the gay day’. You have lessons about equality and difference throughout the week.
“You feed it into assemblies, into your language, bring in ways that we are different. You don’t focus on one thing.
“What you’re teaching children is that all of these differences are on a level, and there’s not one that is less important, but also there’s not one that is more important. There should be no hierarchy of difference.
“It’s the whole message of not picking and choosing ones that you are comfortable with and ones that you are not comfortable with.
“And that’s why I based it on the Equality Act, which is British law; we can’t pick and choose bits of British law that we do or do not like.”
Picture books used in No Outsiders
As well as basing No Outsiders on the Equality Act, Andrew used a collection of picture books during his lessons.
There were 35 books in total, covering race, disability, religion, and gender, four of which covered LGBT characters including: ‘King and King’ about two princes; ‘And Tango Makes Three’ about two gay penguins; ‘Mommy, Mama and Me’ about two mothers bringing up their child; and ‘My Princess Boy’ about a boy who wears a dress.
“The whole point of No Outsiders is to find a way that you can teach in a primary school that everyone belongs,” Andrew said.
“We say in our school: there are no outsiders here, and that’s because everyone is welcome.
“We talk about how the best thing about our school is that you can have black skin or brown skin or white skin, you can have disabilities, you can have a different language, you can have a different family.
“You might have a mum and dad, or you have two mums and two dads, or one mum or one dad. You could be a different age, you can have a different religion.
“Everyone’s different, but everyone belongs. What you can’t do is miss out on any groups of people, so you can’t say: well, we’ll miss people with disabilities, because you don’t feel comfortable about it.
“And in the same way, you also can’t say, well, we’ll miss out LGBT, because all of these groups are part of the Equality Act - and we’ve got to find ways in primary schools to talk about everyone.”
Protests from religious communities
However, No Outsiders was met with protests from religious communities in Birmingham in 2019. The programme was temporarily halted at the school in March 2019, and resumed in September.
Andrew received homophobic abuse and threats during the protests, and was advised by the police to do a risk assessment of his travel arrangements from school. Despite this, Andrew and the school persevered.
“I felt responsible for all of the schools that were doing No Outsiders, and there were hundreds at the time up and down the country,” the teacher said.
“And I felt that, well, if I just give in, if I throw the towel in, what happens to all of those schools? And what happens to this message of equality?
“I felt like I was in a little pocket of extreme hate, but if you step outside that pocket, people want this work.
“What you have to remember is that [the protests] were led by people that weren’t parents at the school.
“We have got through it. The school is doing No Outsiders as it was before, staff wear No Outsiders lanyards, there are No Outsiders posters in the classroom. The whole thing is like it never happened.”
He adds: “There are more people that are supportive than non-supportive.”
In 2019, Andrew was listed in Attitude Pride Awards, awarded Pink News Role Model of the Year, and named Hero of the Year in the European Diversity Awards. He was also a finalist at the Global Teacher Prize.
“The most important thing is that we talk about it, and do the work, rather than waving our flags around”
There was also one positive impact from the protests: Andrew learnt how to adapt No Outsiders to religious communities by a change of language.
After receiving advice from a vicar, Andrew’s approach changed from a celebration of being gay to people learning how to tolerate and accept another’s sexuality.
“You can celebrate being gay. I’ll celebrate it - I love being gay, I will celebrate it every day. But do you know what? You don’t have to celebrate it, I don’t need you to celebrate me, if you don’t want to,” Andrew explains.
“What I do want from you is non-judgment and acceptance.
“After the protests, there was definitely a perception amongst some parents that I was forcing Mulim children to celebrate LGBT. That was the perception, and perception was everything - you can’t just ignore it.
“So what do you do with that? During the protests, I had a letter from a vicar from Cheshire, who was a school governor, and he was very supportive of No Outsiders.
“In the letter, he said, ‘I wonder if you have thought about the language you use. As a vicar, I feel uncomfortable with the word “celebrate”. I don’t think I will be able to celebrate LGBT; I could tolerate, I certainly don’t want anyone to be excluded, but I don’t feel able to celebrate LGBT. Would you consider changing the use of that word?’
“That was the first time I had heard that argument, and I was quite affronted. And then I was thinking about: does it matter actually?
“If this is a way to bring people back onboard, well, it’s worth it! Do I need you to celebrate me being gay? No.
“I don’t celebrate Eid. I’ll join you, I’ve had Eid parties at my last school, but I don’t celebrate Eid myself - you don’t need me to celebrate Eid with you.
“I accept it, I embrace it, I’ll be with you. It’s the same with me: I’ll celebrate Pride Month, but you don’t have to.
“Maybe that’s the answer to bring people along with me, for whom LGBT does provide a tension. Because however much we’d love to think we live in this rainbow world, we don’t.
“We embrace difference in my school, we just are different. The most important thing is that we talk about it, and do the work, rather than waving our flags around.”