The Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard, chair of the Board of Education, replied to questions about homophobic bullying in school on Friday evening at Synod. I don’t do shorthand so I was only able to make brief notes of his replies, of the supplementary questions that were asked and of his further reply.
Mrs Rosemary Lyon (Blackburn) asked:
Given that all forms of bullying are contrary to the ethos of Church of England schools, could the Board of Education explain the reasons why, in the opinion of the Board, Valuing All God’s Children focuses only on homophobic bullying?
I interpreted Mrs Lyon’s question as being homophobic.
The bishop said something about the Church of England being perceived to be homophobic and specific guidance about homophobic bullying was therefore appropriate.
In her supplementary question Mrs Lyon said that homophobic bullying was only a small percentage of the bullying taking place in schools.
The bishop said that a lot of guidance about bullying was already out there dealing with bullying in general but that homophobic bullying was a particular focus at the moment.
(Only one supplementary is usually allowed, so the questioning ended there)
Next, Dr Rachel Jepson (Birmingham), asked:
Given the educational context in which, and with whom Valuing All God’s Children materials will be used, did the Board of Education consider some other terminology than the phrase “falls short of the ideal” as a way of describing committed same sex relationships?
The bishop said the phrase “falling short of the ideal” came from the 1987 General Synod motion introduced by Tony Higton and modified in debate and was therefore appropriate.
In her supplementary Rachel said she was surprised the materials prepared for schools were drawing on a document from thirty years ago. Could less demeaning terminology be used when the materials are revised to reflect the teaching of the Church as it is at the moment?
I didn’t note the bishop’s reply.
Mrs Rosemary Lyon (Blackburn) asked a second question:
What form of contact did those compiling the Valuing of All God’s Children guidance have with those people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction, and what use did they make of it.
Given the homophobic subtext of her first question I suspect there is homophobic intent behind this question as well.
The bishop said something about protecting all children from abuse and bullying and that unwanted same-sex attraction was also covered.
It was only having a conversation with Rachel at lunchtime today that alerted me to how appalling it is that the Board of Education draws on a Synod motion from 31 years ago and thinks it appropriate to use the phrase “falling short of the ideal” referring to homosexuality in a document produced for use in schools now.
If teaching about homophobic abuse in schools or any other teaching about homosexuality is going to rely on obsolete documents and teaching that are in themselves homophobic, we need two things:
- An urgent revision of the core Church of England documents dealing with sexuality.
- Revised practice for the Board of Education and the House of Bishops to eradicate inappropriate, abusive, judgmental and homophobic language and attitudes from all teaching documents.
Changing Attitude will write to the College of Bishops about this prior to the September meeting.
As can be seen from the questions asked by Mrs Rosemary Lyon, members of the Church of England General Synod would benefit from undergoing a training course using Valuing All God’s Children to help them understand exactly what homophobic bullying and the use of inappropriate language about homosexuality really is.