Ex-pupil speaks out over school that runs anti-abortion group for pupils
ST LUKE’S HIGH SCHOOL in Barrhead, East Renfrewshire, is facing criticism from a former pupil over its approach to women’s health and inclusive education for pupils from sexual minorities.
The school’s official twitter account shared an inaccurate anti-abortion message claiming to be from the recent ‘March on Washington’ by American anti-abortion campaigners. It was actually an image from the inauguration of pro-women’s rights president Barack Obama, wrongly attributed.
A former pupil of the school, known to CommonSpace, got in touch to explain their concerns about the incident and wider worries about the lack of LGBT+ inclusion in faith schools.
“Schools have responsibilities to their pupils,” the pupil told CommonSpace.
“I think young people deserve to learn to fact check stuff you find on the internet before you assume it’s true, which whoever runs the school twitter account obviously didn’t do on this occasion. But more than that, schools are supposed to give young people a place where they feel safe and valued and respected, no matter what experiences they’ve had.
“Those young people – whether they’ve chosen or will choose abortion or not – deserve better than having their school on social media be explicitly against their legal right to bodily autonomy. Because the ‘March For Life’ wasn’t urging women not to choose abortion – it was urging the government to take away their right to choose. I don’t know how a school thinks it’s okay to casually promote that on twitter.”
St Luke’s High School has a “pro-life group” as an activity group for pupils from all year groups, which is also promoted online.
Pupils and a teacher from the school previously visited and donated money to the Cardinal Winning Pro-life Initiative, a religious campaign group dedicated to opposing abortion, and continued to “help” the organisation as of 2016.
Concerns over schools’ approach to inclusive education has become a major issue in Scottish politics, with the Time for Inclusive Education (Tie) campaign pursuing changes to how teachers handle issues of sexuality and sex in the classroom.
“Like other LGBTQ+ kids in many faith schools, I grew up hearing my identity as nothing but an insult and a punchline.” Ex-St Luke’s High School pupil
The same former pupil told CommonSpace that her experience in the education system was a reason for them to speak out: “I grew up a closeted queer kid in that school, and while at least my school didn’t openly condemn me on twitter, my sex and relationship education didn’t include people like me, and I obviously knew same sex relationships were a sin as far as the catholic church was concerned.
“Like other LGBTQ+ kids in many faith schools, I grew up hearing my identity as nothing but an insult and a punchline. I think it’s important all schools offer comprehensive sex education, because young people who are sexually active and / or LGBTQ+ are a reality in all schools.”
Stonewall Scotland figures show that homophobic language is common throughout schools in Scotland, and that LGBT= young people are more likely to experience bullying, self-harm, and in horrific circumstances, suicide.
Last month MSP Christina McKelvie and Alex Cole-Hamilton quizzed Barbara Coupar of the Scottish Catholic Education Service on whether enough was being done on LGBT+ inclusive education.
“Our work to support an LGBT inclusive education includes identifying members of staff to take on the dedicated role of equalities co-ordinators in all of our schools who provide guidance and support for pupils in relation to a range of issues, including sexual identity.” East Renfrewshire Council spokesperson
Coupar admitted “there is sometimes confusion” for teachers to explain both “the law and what they are allowed to talk about, and secondly what the church actually teaches”.
John Deighan, catholic church parliamentary officer from 1999-2015 and now chief executive of church-backed anti-abortion group SPUC, told CommonSpace last year that condoms are “very ineffective”, gay relationships contribute to social breakdown, and called for the criminalisation of abortion.
A Tie spokesperson, in response to the former pupil’s concerns, told CommonSpace: “These comments further reinforce our calls for LGBTI inclusive education. We continue to hear stories like this from schools in every local authority area across the country, both non-denominational and faith schools.
“The current educational setup allows schools to ignore the issues faced by their LGBTI learners and this cannot continue. We currently have a situation whereby only a minority of schools are addressing LGBTI issues and this only serves to create a hierarchy of education, which is a breach of young people’s rights.
“We are clear that legislation in this area is required; in order to level the playing field across the country and set a standard that all schools are required to live up to. In this way, we can change the lives and experiences of LGBTI young people across Scotland.”
An East Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “This account is run by the school and used to promote the success and achievements of pupils and the issues which impact on the wider school community. The school are of the view that in retweeting information about this recognised worldwide event, it highlighted an item which was for discussion as part of their learning through the school’s religious education faculty and Chaplaincy Committee.
“We are committed to developing an inclusive ethos within all our schools and our curriculum reflects this. Our work to support an LGBT inclusive education includes identifying members of staff to take on the dedicated role of equalities co-ordinators in all of our schools who provide guidance and support for pupils in relation to a range of issues, including sexual identity. We are also currently working closely with charity Stonewall to develop further advice for schools to ensure staff are well equipped to support LGBT inclusive learning.”
Picture courtesy of Larissa Puro
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