The definition of bullying: using superior strength to influence someone or force them to do something. It’s endemic at every level of society. But is the most effective way to deal with it for Nicky Morgan and Tristram Hunt to score points off of each other in a ‘I’m doing more than you to stamp out homophobic bullying’ pre-election competition: Nicky Morgan even claims to be on a moral mission?
The Labour Party published its Ending Transphobia Together document this week. It aims to eradicate homophobic bullying from ‘every classroom, dinner hall and playground’ It won’t, but it raises some questions. Firstly, the definition: bullying is personal, prolonged and persistent. Casual, throwaway use of derogatory words is thoughtless, it’s unpleasant and it needs to be dealt with, but it isn’t necessarily bullying.
Secondly, why the moral campaign against just one form of bullying? When did you last hear a politician talk about racial bullying? The anti-semitic bullying that necessitates guards on Jewish schools? The careless and widespread use of ‘spaz’ as a term of abuse? Or the malicious, targeting of SEND children in a ‘You’re a spaz. Why didn’t your mother abort you?’ type of comment. The Equality Act 2010 lists several protected characteristics. Focusing on just one group might win votes, but it tacitly minimises the seriousness of other forms of bullying and so denies equality of protection. Level the playing field, politicians, and comply with the Equality Act. Oh, and mention it to Ofsted while you’re about it. I’ve read a great many Ofsted reports since British values reared its head and Nicky Morgan went on her moral crusade. I haven’t read one comment on the bullying of any other protected group than LGBT.
Thirdly, dealing proactively with use of certain words will lessen the use of those words, but it does nothing to deal with the ignorance, prejudice, bigotry or malice that are the root of every kind of bullying. People will just find new words. Any effective anti-bullying policy needs to address the root that feeds the words and actions.
Finally, and most concerning, is the slipping in of a significant change to SRE policy under the guise of dealing with homophobic bullying. This is becoming a bit of a habit of Tristram Hunt’s – last autumn it was about manipulating the ethos of faith schools by changing admissions procedures whilst appearing to support faith education. This time, it’s about compulsory SRE in all schools ‘including faith schools’.
So faith schools will no longer be able to teach the sexual ethics which derive from their doctrinal views. There’s the real possibility that faith schools which don’t offer an SRE programme at all, because of a 100% parental opt out, will be compulsorily taken over. In doing so, their distinctive faith ethos will be destroyed.
But the deliberate use of the phrase ‘including faith schools’ indicates not only that Hunt knows this, but that he’s going to impose his agenda and is up for the fight against anyone, particularly people of faith, who wants to determine their own provision on ethical and moral issues. The Foreword makes that quite clear : ‘changing the law is a lot easier than changing hearts and minds. That process has to start with education’. Since when was it the job of a political party to use education to change hearts and minds to comply with its way of thinking? Just because you have an opinion, it doesn’t make you right.
We need to prepare our children and young people for life in modern Britain. We need to ensure the equal opportunity for each and every one of them to flourish as human beings . We need to create strong, caring families, within communities that contribute to a mature society. But we don’t do that by manipulating hearts and minds to conform to liberal secularist thinking. Diversity, not homogeny.
The definition of bullying: using superior strength to influence someone or force them to do something. Oh, wait, that’s exactly what politicians are promising to do. Using their superior strength to influence faith schools. Using Ofsted to force conformity with their agenda. That’s bullying. Under the 2010 Equalities Act it’s forbidden for protected characteristics, of which religious belief is one.
Unless, of course, you’re a Catholic, or a Muslim, or a Jewish or a Christian parent who doesn’t want to embrace a secular ideology. In which case, your religion is protected only until it informs your ethics, your morals and your worldview and so becomes inconvenient. No room for complacency – or no room for faith?