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The battle of Parkfield primary

Andrew Moffat, assistant head at Parkfield Community School, photographed in July 2019

“I’m hoping that you’re not an undercover fascist. If you don’t look like your profile picture I will leave.” Such was the unexpectedly blunt conclusion to an otherwise convivial exchange in which I arranged to meet and interview primary school teacher Andrew Moffat.

Moffat, assistant head at Birmingham’s Parkfield Community School, makes good on his offer to pick me up from a railway station near his suburban home, but is careful not to disclose his mobile phone number. In the context of recent events, his vigilance is understandable.

In 2017, Moffat received an MBE from the Queen for services to inclusion and diversity in education. However his equality-themed programme of lessons and assemblies – taught under the banner ‘No Outsiders’ – has also earned him angry condemnation and a place at the heart of an increasingly fraught dispute about what it means to be British in the 21st century.

“The police advised us to get security cameras installed,” Moffat tells me as he deactivates the alarm of the home he shares with his civil partner David, before ushering me through to a dining room decorated with a giant mural of brightly-hued Copenhagen townhouses. His offer of coffee and chocolate biscuits seems to indicate that I have come down on the right side of the legitimate journalist/undercover fascist divide.

The day after tomorrow, Andrew and David will depart on holiday. “I’m going to turn my notifications off for two weeks,” says Moffat, gesturing to his phone, which buzzes sporadically with calls and alerts.

We sit surrounded by a stack of the illustrated books which are the core of the No Outsiders programme, whose ethos Moffat summarises as “we’re all different, and we’re all friends.” In language comprehensible to four- and five-year-olds, Lesléa Newman’s Mommy, Mama and Me is told from the perspective of a toddler with same-sex parents. It demonstrates through rhyme how the mothers care for their child: “Mommy lets me help her cook. Mama helps me read a book.” Blue Chameleon by Emily Gravett is an age 6+ reader about an insecure reptile who changes colour to resemble successive peer groups before realising he needn’t disguise himself to fit in.  The Only Way Is Badger is a book Moffat teaches to the ten-year-olds in year six. It concerns a group of animal friends who wake up to discover that a wall has been built by a tyrannical badger prone to chanting “no deer here”. The accompanying lesson plan for the book suggests a discussion of the concept of freedom of speech, and a consideration of the ways in which language can be a tool of both persuasion and division.

Parkfield School is a squat redbrick building opposite an industrial estate surrounded by rows of 19th-century terraced houses. It serves an area to the east of Birmingham hitherto best known for the Battle of Saltley Gate in which striking workers picketed a fuel storage depot during the Miners’ Strike of 1972. Known as “the miners’ Agincourt,” the improbable but resounding victory at Saltley was subsequently proffered by trade unionist Arthur Scargill as evidence of the effectiveness of solidarity strikes and picketing.

Despite having an above-average proportion of disadvantaged pupils and operating in a part of Birmingham known for gang-related crime, Parkfield was rated ‘outstanding’ in its most recent full Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) report, published in 2016. It is estimated that all but three of the approximately 750 pupils currently attending Parkfield are from minority ethnic groups, most having Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage. Nevertheless, according to Ofsted, Parkfield pupils who speak English as their second language “do better than pupils who speak English as their first language nationally in reading, writing and mathematics.” The same report praised the No Outsiders programme, noting that “pupils celebrate diversity and are respectful toward others, including those with different beliefs, sexuality, gender or culture.”

“It is an assault on the family and everything that Islam holds dear”

But by the start of the Easter holidays in 2019, a school that had appeared to be a paragon of community cohesion had become the focal point for an orchestrated rejection of inclusive education, complete with placards, some held by pupils, reading “Say No to Promotion of Homosexuality and LGBT ways of life for our children,” “Stop Exploiting Children’s Innocence,” and “Say No to Discrimination Against Our Children.”

As Hazel Pulley, chief executive of the Excelsior academy chain that operates Parkfield would later tell the BBC News’ Midlands correspondent Sima Kotecha, “I don’t think this had happened in schools in our country before, where parents would stand outside a school and shout using a megaphone and keep children out.”

Moffat says his first inkling that things might go wrong at Parkfield came on Christmas Eve 2018 when a teaching assistant sent him a video via WhatsApp, saying “sorry about this Andy, but you need to watch it because it’s going around the community like wildfire.”

The 13-minute film, which Moffat plays me now, is a recording of an address by Kate Godfrey-Faussett, a psychologist and campaigner against relationship and sex education (RSE). The footage shows her speaking in November 2018 at the Islamic Unity Conference at North London’s Muhammadi Trust, a charitable endowment whose website says it is “devoted to the dissemination of authentic knowledge concerning Islam.”

In the speech, billed at the conference as “Stop RSE”, Godfrey-Faussett warns of a “gay agenda” and of a well thought out, well organised, global social engineering programme which amounts to “a totalitarian endeavour to indoctrinate our children”. RSE teaching, she says, is “an assault on the family and everything that Islam holds dear”.

Positing that “the Muslim community is the gay movement’s final frontier,” Godfrey-Faussett claims that “highly aggressive [pro-LGBT] brainwashing… is happening in our schools” using resources including “cartoon pornography” that are “planting seeds in a child’s mind that are going to sexualise them at a very young age”. In the speech she entreats parents to “step up and speak our truth as people of Islam” but not to resort to hate speech as “hate towards anyone is not part of our religion.”

Many Muslim youths, states Godfrey-Faussett, “are already turning to same-sex relationships” and while the Muslim community fails to offer a united front the demonic spirit Shaitan is “rubbing his hooves together.” She concludes by imploring parents “to stop these LGBT ideologies coming in because they are taking our children away from us.”

Although Godfrey-Faussett makes no reference in the film to Parkfield Community School or the No Outsiders programme, Andrew Moffat says he immediately grasped the significance of the speech, which coincided with the conclusion of government’s consultation with a wide range of organisations on the upcoming overhaul of RSE.

“I just remember watching it and getting this sense of dread,” Moffat tells me. “I thought, this is going to cause massive problems because she is very clear about the need to stand up and fight.” Sure enough, “in the first week of term there were petitions at the school gate,” says Moffat. “A couple of parents were talking about us sexualising children and using all the language that [Godfrey-Fausset] was using. Parents started asking for meetings about No Outsiders.”

Hazel Pulley would later tell the Times Educational Supplement about Parkfield’s efforts to keep parents in the picture regarding No Outsiders since its introduction in 2014. There had been, she said, 28 workshops and 11 different consultation meetings. Moffat concurs that parents are continuously invited to review teaching materials. “We send out letters saying we’re going to do No Outsiders, it’s about different people: sexual orientation, British values, different families. Come and look at the books!” Detailed lesson plans are available to view on the Parkfield website. “And yet I’ve heard [it said] in parliament that there was no consultation,” says Moffat, his eyes widening in exasperation.

Titles that form the No Outsiders programme include Blue Chameleon, Mommy, Mama, and Me and The Only Way Is Badger

Special meetings were duly arranged with protesting parents, which Moffat describes as “very difficult, not like meetings I’d had before.” For a start, Moffat says, there were frequent mentions, both direct and oblique, of his sexuality. In one meeting the mother of a pupil refused to make eye contact with Moffat, telling him “you just want to make children like you. You can’t have children of your own so you just want to steal ours. Basically, you want to make our children gay.” In the second week of January, it was announced that Moffat was among the ten finalists nominated for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, which rewards “one exceptional educator who deserves to be recognised around the world.” The million-dollar prize, which Moffat did not ultimately win, was presented at a ceremony in Dubai by Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman.

Although education secretary Damian Hinds deemed Moffat’s nomination “another appropriate moment to thank all our teachers for their dedication and exceptional work, day after day, for our children and our society, in their unique role,” some Parkfield parents were unimpressed. “The protesters saw it as confirmation that this was a global conspiracy – he’s going to win a million dollars for his disgusting work,” says Moffat. Another petition started to circulate, demanding Moffat’s disqualification from the competition.

Demonstrations by both adults and children began taking place outside the school every Thursday morning, typically featuring an adult with a megaphone encouraging kids to shout “Stop No Outsiders!” over and over. They were publicised beyond the community of Parkfield parents through social media, most notably via a “Stop No Outsiders” Facebook group, whose moderators have shared articles such as Faisal Bodi’s piece for the website entitled ‘Exposed and explained: The insidious agenda to foist LGBT on our children’. Under a photo of Moffat, the press officer for the Islamic Rights Commission describes the No Outsiders programme as “a Trojan horse to smuggle into education an LGBT agenda that is all about fostering the acceptance of particular minority sexual behaviours and identities.”

“To hear 200 children and adults chanting ‘GetMrMoffatout’…It was the worst experience of my life, no question”

The term ‘Trojan horse’ has a special resonance for Muslims in Birmingham, as it was the name of a fictitious five-stage strategy to take over local schools and “Islamise” them as outlined in an anonymous letter passed to Birmingham city council by a “concerned citizen”. The leaking of that document in 2014 resulted in a media frenzy around the schools thought to be involved and a moral panic over extremism in education.

“In the beginning the protests had about 100 [attendees] but the biggest one was about 300,” says Moffat of the 2019 Parkfield demonstrations. “They blocked the whole street outside the school so you couldn’t drive down it. One morning, someone chained the staff car park to stop staff from getting in and we had to get the tools out.” Previously warm relationships with parents deteriorated overnight. “Suddenly I had parents being cold, challenging and – well – nasty is the word,” says Moffat.

“Rumours that are spread on WhatsApp become facts very quickly,” says Moffat. “After the first protest there was a story going around that I had taken every child who’d been at the protests into my office individually and got them to sign a letter of apology,” he says. “That never happened – in fact, I’ve never spoken to the kids about the protests – but it soon becomes a ‘fact’.”

Moffat was advised by the police to stay sequestered inside the school during the protests. Colleagues were tasked with extricating children from the throng and delivering them into classrooms in time for lessons to begin at 8.45am. “We’d have to calm them down because children would come in and want to continue chanting. They were wound up from the protest,” says Moffat.

Although he says that several LGBT+ advocacy organisations have offered to counter the Parkfield protests with demonstrations of support for No Outsiders outside the school gates, Moffat has declined “because I know it’s not the right thing to do. People would just say, look at those gays threatening our children.” Under different circumstances, he says he would have applauded the students’ first-hand experience of campaigning. “But to hear 200 children and adults chanting ‘Get Mr Moffat out’ repeatedly outside my school’s gates? It was the worst experience of my life, no question.”

Parents and children demonstrate against the ‘No Outsiders’ programme at Parkfield Community School on 21st March 2019

The noise reached Westminster on 26th February, when the House of Commons held a debate ahead of the vote on whether to adopt the government’s new LGBT-inclusive guidance for compulsory relationships education. (On 27th March, the House would ultimately vote 538 to 21 in favour).

Referring to the protests at Parkfield, which is in her constituency, the Labour MP Shabana Mahmood voiced her concern that “everybody feels it is okay to ride roughshod over orthodox communities and push them to one side… I do not blame parents for saying that they want to opt their kids out, because the subject has become so divisive and polarising that they cannot see another way out,” she said.

On Friday 1st March, despite UK law only allowing parents to permit their child to miss school on medical grounds, a reported 80 percent of Parkfield children were kept at home in an escalation of the protesting parents’ tactics. By the time the school broke up for the Easter holidays on Friday 5th April, the goings-on at Parkfield constituted a national news story second only to the vicissitudes of Brexit, with papers leading with stories about death threats against Moffat.

“It depends what you define as a death threat,” reflects Moffat. “I’ve had a message that said you won’t last long – from just a random person on Messenger actually. I’ve had messages from people, saying things like ‘you’ll never be accepted why don’t you just go away you sick man, you are a paedophile’ and things like that. My partner got messages as well, [calling us] gay motherfuckers.” He shrugs. “In the end, anyone can sit in their pants and write a message, can’t they?”

Moffat suggests that parents who are supportive of No Outsiders feel silenced by peer pressure. At the height of the protests, one mother came up with a pretext to contrive a private meeting with Moffat. “She told me, ‘don’t worry, I totally support you and there are many mums like me who are ashamed of how certain members of our community are behaving’,” says Moffat.

In response to the abuse he was receiving online, police officers suggested Moffat take different routes to and from his workplace. “For a bit of time I did travel with somebody just so that I wasn’t on my own,” says Moffat. “The problem with Parkfield, though, is that at our school there’s only one way in and one way out.”

When Moffat was a schoolboy, Section 28 – the legislation enacted by Margaret Thatcher’s government that made it illegal to “promote homosexuality” in schools or teach “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” – was in full force.

Effectively a ban on all references to homosexuality in schools, Section 28 enforced a culture of shame and suspicion that Moffat says shaped the course of his early life. “I just thought, it’s not possible to be out,” he says.

When he did come out, at 27, Moffat’s parents assumed he would leave teaching. (Nowadays they’re so supportive of his work, they accompanied him to the aforementioned awards ceremony in Dubai.)

Instead, Moffat began to specialise in diversity and inclusion, particularly after the passing of the Equality Act of 2010, which requires public bodies to consider how their decisions and policies affect people with certain “protected characteristics,” such as age, disability, religion and sexual orientation.

“Everyone in school knows what No Outsiders is about. We’re frustrated to see it being described as some kind of gay agenda”

A stint at Chilwell Croft Primary School in Birmingham ended in 2014 after parents complained that he was telling children that it was acceptable to be gay. The school’s statement at the time read: “A minority group of parents objected to some of the resource books being used in literacy lessons with some of the oldest children… which explored relationships in different families. The objections were primarily voiced by those whose own religion took an opposing stance to homosexuality.”

When Moffat resigned to join Parkfield Community School, where 99 percent of the students are Muslim, it was with the express purpose of applying the Equality Act in a context where, as he puts it, he knew things would be “interesting”. “I said to Hazel [Pulley] when I applied, I explained what went wrong at my last school and I told her how I’d like to improve it,” he says.

In the beginning, his approach seemed to work. Moffat shows me a video of Parkfield parents expressing their early enthusiasm for No Outsiders, with one hijab-wearing woman saying of the programme, “it’s showing tolerance towards others and the need to have this instilled now, because obviously when [our children] are going into secondary schools, then into university and further into work life they have to be able to adapt to different people and be able to be respectful to them”.

Moffat even wrote a book, Teaching the Equality Act, about the successful implementation of No Outsiders at Parkfield, with template letters home that fellow educators might use to explain their intentions to parents. Modest royalties from sales of the book continue to pay the hosting fees for, his website along the same lines. He says he considered his own sexuality to be largely irrelevant until the Independent newspaper included him in its annual chart of LGBT+ achievers, the Pink List. “I think we put that in the school newsletter and I started to wear a rainbow lanyard, but that’s about it,” he says. “Everyone in that school knows what No Outsiders is about and we’re frustrated to see what it’s being called and the way it’s being described as some kind of gay agenda.”

Moffat and Pulley are both critical of the way that the Department for Education (DfE) responded to the controversy, specifically the former education secretary Damian Hinds’ repeated statements of support for LGBT-inclusive lessons in primary schools, which stopped short of saying that they should be compulsory.

In a letter dated 9th April, Hinds wrote to Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the teaching trade union NAHT, saying that “primary schools are encouraged to cover LGBT content if they consider it age appropriate to do so.” He also reiterated that “we are requiring schools to consult with parents about their policies for these subjects.”

Moffat believes this is tantamount to saying, “it’s OK if you choose not to do it because of your particular community. So you’ll end up with a situation where one school will talk about families with two mums but another won’t because the community doesn’t like it. You’re saying, effectively, that there are outsiders.” Moffat tells me he met with an (unnamed) representative from the DfE twice over the summer. “I thought he was going to say that the priority is to keep your outstanding equality work going, but no. He said that the priority for DfE is to get this out of the headlines.”

After bowing to what she has since referred to as “extreme pressure” from the DfE, Hazel Pulley had called Moffat one school night in March to tell him that the No Outsiders programme was going to have to be paused pending a new period of consultation in which Moffat would not be present. “It was half past ten and we talked for about half an hour,” recalls Moffat. “I knew it was a really hard message for Hazel to have to deliver, so I didn’t make a fuss. I also knew that it was timed in order to try to stop a national protest that was being planned for the following week.”

The aftermath of the decision was tough, says Moffat. David, “who is usually down-to-earth and doesn’t get emotionally involved in this whatsoever,” was furious on his partner’s behalf. “That’s the only time in all of this I’ve seen him lose it,” says Moffat.

Andrew Moffat has been teaching the No Outsiders programme at Parkfield since 2014.

Protests resumed at Parkfield when it was announced that No Outsiders would begin again after the summer. On 12th July, hundreds of children were once again withdrawn from school in defiance. “They had six men on the school gate who we didn’t recognise and some mums were calling up to say, ‘I support you but I just can’t bring [my child] in’,” recalls Moffat. Jay Hussain, the father of a Parkfield pupil, told reporters outside the school, “we are not against anyone being homosexual if that’s what they want. We have no issue if Mr Moffat wants to put on a dress, or dance around like a ballet dancer, we have no issue. We have an issue with teaching that nonsense to our kids.”

Meanwhile, a pamphlet titled “Understanding Mr Moffat” was posted to the ‘Stop No Outsiders’ Facebook page aligning Moffat with a movement “to abolish family and make children sexually active after birth” noting, “it starts with the premature sexualisation of children and ends in legalising paedophilia – the end goal.”

Despite the increasingly personal nature of the accusations, Moffat says he remains “full of hope.” In consultation with Parkfield’s governing body, he has recently rebranded No Outsiders as ‘No Outsiders in a Faith Community’ and all references to “celebrating” difference have been replaced with talk of acceptance. “I’ve thought about this a lot, about justifying it in my mind and I think it’s alright, actually,” he says. “I don’t need you to celebrate me being gay. And I’m happy for you to be Muslim but I don’t celebrate you being Muslim.”

Ironically, Moffat has barely been able to cope with demand for No Outsiders on a national level, with schools all over the UK inviting him to share his expertise on fulfilling their obligations under the Equality Act. He does so on a voluntary, expenses-only basis. “I’ve visited 34 schools since September,” he says. “I go for a day and teach a No Outsiders lesson in whichever classes the head wants me to be in.”

A No Outsiders book pack, incorporating 35 picture books and lesson plans for teachers, has sold 260 units on the retailer Letterbox Library, and on the morning of our meeting Moffat received confirmation of his application to register No Outsiders as a charity. He has already approached prospective trustees – some from the Muslim community – all of whom he says have “jumped at the chance” to be involved. “I can’t meet the demand for training so I’m aiming to attract funding from business and expand this,” he explains. “I can’t do it on my own and I think it’s good for me and my mental health to have a plan and be proactive.” Moffat says that, rather than becoming a freelance consultant, it’s important for him to maintain his position “on the ground” at Parkfield. “We’ve had engagement with the community and those children have missed out on equality work for the last five months. We’ve got to pick it back up now.”

“I understand what has happened and I know how it’s going to end. It’s going to end with this working”

Kate Godfrey-Faussett will be watching with interest. As debate around No Outsiders escalated in spring 2019, the campaigner was handed an 18-month suspension order from the British Psychological Society after an investigation into what it termed her “unethical” comments on sexual orientation and gender identity. At the time of writing, she has raised £18,250 out of a £20,000 GoFundMe target to appeal her suspension, and she is awaiting the outcome of a separate interim suspension order from the Health Care Professional Council, whom she says “believe I pose a serious risk to the public and profession.”

Corresponding over email, Godfrey-Faussett tells me that “by speaking out about my concerns there has been a systematic smear campaign against me, as well as ongoing attempts to get me struck off professionally which has resulted in me no longer having a job.” Godfrey-Faussett says she had never heard of No Outsiders when she addressed the Islamic Unity Conference in 2018, and that her objective “was to create awareness of RSE and inform parents of their legal rights.”

“My concerns involve the erosion of parental rights and the undermining of the parenting role and the traditional family structure,” she says. “Whilst the RSE guidelines state that content must be age-appropriate, I believe that this varies from child to child and is affected by cultural and religious backgrounds; thus a one-size fits all approach can never be age-appropriate or suitable for all children.” With specific reference to transgenderism – a subject touched upon in Introducing Teddy, one of the books on the No Outsiders lesson plans for ten-year-olds – Godfrey-Faussett writes, “the introduction of [such] concepts to impressionable children, who do not understand such concepts, may well lead to confusion or harm. Research is already indicating that other factors such as social contagion may be involved in the high increase of young people wishing to transition.”

For his part, Moffat exudes calm as he contemplates his return to work after the summer break. “I feel that I know exactly what I’m doing, that I understand exactly what has happened and I know how it’s going to end,” he tells me.

How is it going to end? Moffat doesn’t hesitate. “It’s going to end with this working,” he says. “It just might take a bit of time. Because we’re not returning to the 1980s or the 1880s. It’s 2019, rights have been won and we move forward as a society. We are not going back.”

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