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Meopham Community Academy, in Longfield Road, Meopham is piloting a new scheme to educate pupils on transgender and gender identity issues

One of the leaders of a school trust has defended plans to introduce transgender education into a primary school’s curriculum after a backlash from parents.

Meopham Community Academy, in Longfield Road, Meopham is proposing to educate its pupils from reception to Year 6 on issues such as assigned sex and gender identity and the terms transgender and non-binary.

Senior improvement lead at The Golden Thread Alliance Trust Michele Sowden-Mehta
Senior improvement lead at The Golden Thread Alliance Trust Michele Sowden-Mehta

The proposed shake-up of the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum is part of a pilot scheme spearheaded by The Golden Thread Alliance Trust which runs the school.

The primary will be the first in the trust, which runs nine academies across Dartford and Gravesend, to trial the programme, which could then be rolled out to the other schools in the trust.

But the trailblazing scheme has received backlash from parents, with some threatening to take their children out of lessons.

Senior school improvement lead Michele Sowden-Mehta has defended the pilot following a “heated” forum between parents and school leaders.

She said: “The purpose of the parent forum was to hear the views of parents specifically around the content being taught and when they feel it is age-appropriate to introduce the themes to their children.

Meopham Community Academy in Longfield Road, Meopham
Meopham Community Academy in Longfield Road, Meopham

“We understand that every parent wants the very best for their child and, when opinions differ, the discussion can become heated.

“The vast majority of feedback we have received to date has been supportive and we will continue the discussions with parents, carers and the wider school community through a formal consultation in the new year.

“The Golden Thread Alliance remain committed to developing a curriculum promoting inclusion and diversity of all protected characteristics for all children which is representative of the communities we serve and wider society.

The introduction of the education program is part of a larger review at the trust to ensure its curriculum is inclusive for all.

Mrs Sowden-Mehta said: “This is not only about children who identify as LGBTQ+, this is about all children. We know that children who do not fit into typical gender stereotypes, such as boys who do not enjoy football, are much more likely to be bullied than those who do or children who may not live with a mum and a dad but two mums or one parent or a grandparent and may feel that they are different to others without understanding that everyone's situation may be different but those around them love them very much.

“However, for pupils who identify as LGBTQ+ we know that they are twice as likely to be bullied. The impact this has on a person's mental health can be devastating with LGBTQ+ young people being twice as likely to contemplate suicide, and Black LGBTQ+ young people are three times more likely.”

‘The vast majority of feedback we have received to date has been supportive...’

An independent research report by charity Just Like Us in 2021 found LGBT+ school pupils were twice as likely to have been bullied and 91% had heard negative language about being part of the group in the past year.

The independent research of 2,934 pupils aged 11-18 (1,140 of whom were LGBT+) across the UK found that pupils in schools with strong positive messaging around being LGBT+ were less likely to experience suicidal thoughts and feelings.

The research found that 74% of LGBT+ pupils who have never had positive messaging from their school about being LGBT+ had contemplated suicide but this dropped to 65% when their school provided strong positive messaging.

The program will see children at Meopham Community Academy taking part in a range of workshops, whilst staff have received training from Pop n Olly, which is one of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ educational resources.

One parent, who attended the meeting but did not want to be named, said: “The meeting was very heated. There were lots of complaints.

Parent Zoe Aqlan is in favour of the teaching
Parent Zoe Aqlan is in favour of the teaching

“People are worried the content does not feel age appropriate.”

But parent Zoe Aqlan, who lives in Meopham, thinks the scheme is a great idea.

“I think the earlier we educate children about LGBTQ+ the better,” she said.

“Ideally one day we will reach a stage in society where everyone will be accepted and there will be no need for these focused lessons.

“I see these initiatives as part of the journey to achieve that.”

When reviewing the content of the RSE curriculum the trust said it would take into account pupil’s ages, maturity levels and cultural and religious backgrounds.

The idea of combating negative gender stereotypes will be addressed in Years 1 and 2 .

Years 5 and 6 will be looking at understanding, identifying and defining different sexual orientations and understanding and defining terms like assigned sex, gender, transgender and non-binary.

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