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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Kent defies Blunkett on gays

After Scotland, Kent is the latest Section 28 battleground
A Conservative council has set itself on a collision course with central government by voting to defy the scrapping of Section 28, which bans the "promotion" of homosexuality by local authorities.

Kent County Council decided by 40 votes to 36 to bring in its own version of the contentious regulation, which has been criticised for preventing teachers from tackling homophobic bullying.

The council will continue to operate a ban on publishing, purchasing or distributing material which "promote gay lifestyles".

According to council leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart: "We are making a stand on this issue and will keep the spirit of the existing legislation alive in Kent."

The councillors' move came after they saw that the Commons was set to again vote to repeal the clause.

The Kent version of Section 28 will now be included in a "curriculum statement" being sent to the county's 600 schools.

'Primacy of marriage'

Education Secretary David Blunkett: His department's guidance is also being sent to schools
Mr Bruce-Lockhart said Kent schools would from next term be expected to teach the primacy of marriage.

"The vote today installs our own form of Section 28 to ensure the county council does not publish, purchase or distribute material with the intention of promoting homosexuality and, in its Kent curriculum guidelines, promotes the teaching of marriage as the key building block of society."

The Kent decision raises the possibility of a confrontation with the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), which earlier this month published its sex education guidance for schools.

That guidance will have legal force once the Learning and Skills Bill becomes law, which it is expected to do before the Commons adjourns for the summer later this month.

The government guidance equates "marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society". Kent's guidance stresses marriage alone.

Ofsted 'happy'

Mr Bruce-Lockhart said the council's solicitors had advised that it was not doing anything unlawful by amending its own curriculum guidance.

The matter had also been discussed at "high levels" with inspectors from education watchdog Ofsted, who were also happy with the council's actions, Mr Bruce-Lockhart said.

A spokesman for the DfEE did not rule out the possibility of a confrontation with Kent.

The DfEE's own code warns teachers: "Care needs to be taken to ensure there is no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances."

The spokesman said: "Like every council in England, Kent will have to pay attention to developments in statute on this subject."

No prosecution has ever been brought in Kent under Section 28, a council spokesman said.

Battle back to Lords

The battle over Section 28 moves back to the House of Lords next Monday when Tory Baroness Young will call on peers to keep it.

The "family values" campaigner led successful rebellion last February against attempts to ditch the clause during an earlier stage of the bill.

But a fortnight ago the Commons, where the government enjoys a giant majority, reversed the Lords decision.

If Lady Young and her supporters win again on Monday, the government will be forced to keep Section 28 or lose the whole bill.

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See also:

04 Feb 00 | Education
Schools will get their own Section 28
31 May 00 | UK
The Section 28 battle
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