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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 18:26 GMT
Section 28 debate a 'charade'
Classroom
There is doubt whether Section 28 applied to schools
By Sean Coughlan

There has never been a single prosecution under the contentious Section 28 legislation.

And as far as the government is aware, no one has ever even threatened to use the regulation, which since 1988 has banned the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities.

There is also considerable doubt as to whether the legislation has ever applied to schools - prompting the education chief of the Local Government Association, Graham Lane, to describe the current debate over the abolition of Section 28 as a "charade from start to finish".

"There has never been any case law to test it, but it has never been clear how this law could have been used. The whole argument seems to be smoke and mirrors."

Whether the clause is retained or removed from the statute book - "the net effect on schools will be nil", said Mr Lane - although as a "symbolic" measure against intolerance he is in favour of its abolition.

No powers over curriculum

The clause applies to local authorities, but the legislation, which pre-dates the national curriculum in England and Wales, does not place any requirements on schools.

A local authority has no powers over how sex education is taught within the national curriculum - which is prescribed by a government agency.

If the local authority were to produce books or resources which could be deemed to be "promoting" homosexuality, it would be the head teacher and board of governors who would be responsible for deciding whether they should be used.

And as neither head teachers nor school governors are subject to the provisions of Section 28, the Local Government Association and the Department for Education say that it is not clear how schools could be influenced by the legislation.

Parents already have the right of a personal veto on what sex education their children should be given - as they have the specific right to withdraw their child from any elements of a sex education lesson they feel unsuitable.

The government is seeking to repeal Section 28 in an amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill, when it receives its Third Reading in the House of Lords next Thursday.

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30 Jan 00 | Education
Gay law change defended
07 Feb 00 | Education
Sex guidelines in Section 28 row
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