I have been left concerned by some of the material that is being promoted in our schools over the past few months. I believe strongly that all teaching relating to sex education and gender identity should be age appropriate. It should also have parental consent and not promote controversial, contested, and often radical gender theories as fact.
A number of parents have raised concerns with me over the past year or so but often lacking any real evidence making it hard for me to pursue. The Government is currently in the process of developing clear statutory guidance for schools on these issues. It is critical that this is published as soon as possible to make it abundantly clear to schools what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
A few weeks ago, it was brought to my attention on social media that an example of radical gender theory called the “Genderbread person” was being promoted at Northgate High School. A document promoting this concept with the School’s logo and contact details at the bottom was shared on social media. The social media account that shared this document and a related video promoting the school’s “LGBTQ+ LANGUAGE TOOLKIT” had a big following, so unsurprisingly a number of media outlets picked up on the issue including the Daily Express. I expressed my concern on social media about what I saw.
I then received an email from the Headteacher at the school expressing frustration that I commented upon the issue without knowing “the full picture” and meeting with her to discuss my concerns. Very shortly after this, the Headteacher emailed parents implying that I had refused to meet with her and that I didn’t have “the full picture”. It also mentioned that the Daily Express were aware of the issue.
In a separate statement to the media, she claimed that the “Genderbread person” concept was only ever communicated to teachers. According to the BBC, “The school said the resource has only ever formed part of a staff tool kit on language, which has not been used since October 2022 and has never been used as a teaching resource.” Both the BBC and the Ipswich Star published this statement without question and didn’t come to me for a response.
My initial thoughts in response to this statement from the Headteacher was confusion. What would be the point in communicating all of these controversial theories to the teachers if the expectation wasn’t for the teaching staff to then communicate these ideas to the pupils?
However, there was then a very significant development. I was contacted by a parent of two children at the school. That day his daughter had gone on the school intranet and gained access to all of the material under discussion. Far from being taken down, discontinued or only being accessible to teaching staff, the “Genderbread person” and other associated material was fully accessible and available to pupils. I was sent a video of the pupil in question logging on and accessing the material on the intranet.
In many respects, this makes me even more concerned than if it was being used and promoted in the classroom. At least then a responsible adult would be present to hopefully provide some balance. As it is, a radical gender theory is there on the intranet, accessible to pupils, and from what I can see, promoted as fact, not even just a contested theory.
I’m concerned that there is such a discrepancy between what the Headteacher claims and the apparent reality of the situation. I understand that the Daily Express emailed the Headteacher about this discrepancy but didn’t receive a response. I look forward to getting a full explanation when I meet with her over the coming weeks. How can she credibly claim that the “Genderbread person” was never used as a “teaching resource” when all pupils appear to be able to get easy access to it?
Interestingly the Labour candidate for Ipswich decided to wade into the debate criticising me for raising concerns about controversial gender ideology being promoted in the school before knowing the full facts and gaining “the full picture”. Largely on the back of the inaccurate and unbalanced story in the Ipswich Star I imagine. If ever there was a case to keep your powder dry this was it.
I do not believe that controversial debates around gender identity should be promoted in primary schools at all and I don’t think that controversial concepts like the “Genderbread person” have any place in schools whatsoever. If a pupil is struggling with their own gender identity, then of course I want them to be supported. However, I think there are potentially dangerous and damaging consequences for our young people when radical and controversial gender theories such as the “Genderbread person” are promoted in schools. I also think it’s right that parents have full oversight of what their children are being taught in schools when it comes to these sorts of issues, many seem to be totally in the dark. Something I can’t understand from this experience, is that I clearly haven’t been able to secure a proper response from the school in question, about what is actually promoted to children within the school.
The “Genderbread person” model in question states: “Gender is one of those things everyone thinks they understand but most people don’t. Gender isn’t binary. It’s not either/ or. In many cases it’s both/ and. A bit of this, a dash of that.” This essentially states that gender identity is something purely in your head and that biology has no role to play at all. It also states that gender isn’t “binary”, meaning that you can be a mixture. These are pretty out there ideas that I personally disagree with. However, the idea that they aren’t just promoted, but promoted as fact with no counter balance I find deeply disturbing.
The concept also promotes regressive gender stereotypes which I also think have no place in our schools. For example, under “Gender identity” it has a “Woman-ness” category and a “Man-ness” category and with each associated “roles”, “jobs” and “hobbies”. I thought we were trying to break down the view that there are roles and jobs for men and roles and jobs for women? The bizarre way in which this concept is promoted leaves me thinking that you’d be told you are 5% male for liking football but 10% women for wanting to be a nurse? I’d be fascinated for the creator of the “Genderbread person” to outline to me what roles and hobbies are associated with “man-ness” and “woman-ness”.
My concern is that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to some of the theories being promoted in our schools, which is why last week I wrote to the Education Secretary and the Equalities Minister requesting that the statutory guidance for schools be urgently published to ensure this sort of stuff is nipped in the bud.
I’m sorry it has come to this. On the whole, Northgate is a good school, and it saddens me that it has attracted national media attention for the wrong reasons. I want stability for the school and the pupils at it, but I will always act if I believe potentially harmful content is being promoted to young people in Ipswich that is not age appropriate. In this case, I felt like I had no alternative but to speak out.
I will be meeting the Headteacher soon to discuss my concerns and a way forward. I am also making myself available to meet with all parents that have concerns.
On Tuesday evening I brought Matthew Applegate, founder of Creative Computing Club, to Number 10 as my guest for the Local Skills Champions’ Reception hosted by the Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP, Secretary of State for Education. I chose Matthew as my Local Skills Champion as Creative Computing Club do great work in helping young people in Ipswich and across Suffolk engage in technology-based activities, having a positive impact on their educational and social opportunities.
Matthew supports many children who are neurodiverse through his Club. He helps them gain confidence and qualifications in areas that interest them, giving them the skills they need to enter high paid tech-based jobs. Those who are neurodiverse often think in unconventional ways, this is an advantage when it comes to tech. Matthew teaches them how to utilise their strength and the organisation has and continues to have excellent outcomes.
I have linked up many young people in Ipswich to Matthew and the Club. Many of their lives have been turned around and they have developed and strengthened their social skills, which they previously struggled with.
I would like to thank Matthew for taking the time to come to London. The work Creative Computing Club do is outstanding, and it is clear how committed they are to ensuring young people succeed in their chosen path. I know Matthew will continue the work he is so passionate about, helping children in Suffolk thrive.
I hosted a roundtable discussion on SEND provision. Whilst we mainly focused on Suffolk, we discussed what can be done on a national level to ensure those who are neurodiverse are supported. Those who are neurodiverse often feel they don’t have the support they need to break down the barriers they face in education and in learning the life skills they need for a fulfilled life.
Present were, myself; Cllr Chris Chambers, Deputy Cabinet Member for Education at Suffolk County Council; Dhruv Patel, Nisai Education Trust; Gemma Grace, Adult Autism Awareness Advocate; Wayne Taylor, Director of Youth Services at TCHC; Boo Dendy, Leading Lives and Adam Dabin, Head Teacher, Sir Bobby Robson School.
Together, we discussed how not only education reform is needed, but also SEND provision for adults to ensure they hold necessary life skills alongside helped on the path towards gaining a job.
On education reform, we discussed the need for all teachers to have a good awareness and understanding of all types of neurodiversity, not just SEND specialists. This needs to be incorporated into the curriculum for teachers. We also need to ensure schools are held to account for their provision of SEND through Ofsted. A SEND review is needed as part of Ofsted reports. Alongside this, more funding is needed. Suffolk is underfunded and more funding is something I continue to campaign for in Parliament.
Adult SEND provision also needs reform. Shockingly, fewer than 3 in 10 people with autism are in work. The recent Buckland Review by the Government is aiming to change this. We need to see job centre staff trained in neurodiversity awareness. This will help them when talking with those who are neurodiverse and placing them. Alongside this, employers need to make a conscious effort to make changes to the work environment to help those who are neurodiverse thrive.
This meeting was a productive and positive step in the right direction and I look forward to continuing discussions on such an important topic.
any occasions where I’ll be critical of the way UK aid is spent and where it’s sent. However, UK Education for Change which I saw in Bangladesh last month are doing some great work.
Large numbers of Bangladeshi girls are forced into child labour and are denied basic education. UK Education for Change works to change this. Quite a touching moment communicating with some of the girls and their parents via an interpreter about how their lives have been changed for the better.
Bangladesh is a fast developing country with increasing influence and of course a Commonwealth country with which we have strong ties.
There is a need for an aid budget but it needs to work in accordance with British interests and should also ideally be linked to increasing trade and Investment. Clearly morally it’s important the aid goes to where’s its really needed. Not to countries that don’t need it and which aren’t allies with which we have close links!
Visited the New Skill Centre today to see their SEN school and meet with headteacher Mark Winston. I visited their centre for adults the other week, and it was great to hear about all the work they do for young people as well at their school. When I visited, they were having a “Paws for Thought” day to raise money for the Blue Cross charity.
The centre only opened in September 2019, and their building, a former church, originally had no classrooms. They’re off to a great start. Since opening, they’ve grown enormously and have already got a good all round Ofsted rating.
The NSC supports students aged 11-19 with complex needs like autism, some of whom have been out of school for many years. They help many students who have suffered trauma causing social issues, not just those with SEND. Post-16 students do placements and often help teach younger students.
NSC has classes of about 3-4 students in a nurturing environment, offering a full GCSE curriculum. Within a short space of time, their students make progress in interpersonal skills and confidence. 95% of students’ places are commissioned by local authority, and they’re very strict on having only students suitable to the environment. They’re independent but subscribe to the funding structure for SEN pupils, giving them more freedom to manage the school and funding.
During my visit, I met James, a post-16 student who has progressed hugely and is now going for a work placement. After two years here, he’s off to Suffolk New College to study business. It was great to learn about how much progress he’s made and hear about his future plans.
I also got to see the design and technology workshops. They have a 3-D printer and CAD software, and I saw some of the impressive projects the students have worked on.
The school also works closely with parents, gives confidence and breaks down barriers. I met Emma Mirams, the assistant head who is also in charge of mental health and pastoral care, and learned about the kind of extra support they offer.
The school is off to a great start, and I look forward to seeing them continue to grow and support more young people.
Was really pleased to have the Children’s Minister Claire Coutinho at the Sir Bobby Robson school this afternoon. She covers special educational needs as part of her role.
I’ve taken a keen interest in the school since it first opened only a few years so. Adam the head teacher and his team are doing a terrific job. Both myself and the Minister really enjoyed meeting so many of the pupils at the school and understanding more about their experiences.
In total there are now 66 at Sir Bobby. Many previous to being at Sir Bobby didn’t get the support they needed. Now they’re getting it and the progress many of them are making is uplifting.
Over the past few years the Government have increased the money put into special educational needs but the way Suffolk SEND is funded isn’t right. The amount of funding per pupil is lower than many comparable counties and this needs to change. I made this point to the Minister today and will be bringing it up in Parliament again next week.
We have another special school on the way on Woodbridge Road but even with that there is still not enough places at schools such as Sir Bobby. For every place at the school there is significant interest.
The Suffolk Devolution deal was officially agreed with Government Minister Lee Rowley this afternoon. This involves a significant amount of new funding for Suffolk and powers. Particularly over skills and things like adult education. It will include a £480 million investment fund over 30 years.
This does represent in my view an opportunity for Suffolk and Ipswich. It must be taken.
In principle I’ve always believed in decisions being taken as closely as possible to the people affected by those decisions.
Suffolk will only ever achieve its true potential if Ipswich achieves its true potential. The new devolution settlement for Suffolk must involve a strong focus on Ipswich. I will work with whoever I need to in order to try and ensure that.
I’m hoping this new model will help us get more investment into key infrastructure projects. Whether road or rail. There is much to be done.
Part of this will involve a new democratically elected leader of Suffolk County Council.