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LGBT+ lessons: 'Increasingly unpleasant' protests force primary school to close early amid fears for pupils' safety

Eleanor Busby

A primary school at the centre of ongoing protests against LGBT+ equality lessons will be forced to close early on Friday over safety fears.

Anderton Park school in Birmingham, which has been the scene of daily protests for several weeks, will shut its doors at lunchtime for the half-term break.

The move comes after a senior police chief called for the demonstrations to come to an end earlier this week as he said they have no place outside primary schools.

West Midlands police are currently investigating a number of criminal offences near the school – including claims counter-protesters were egged while putting up banners in support.

Officers are also investigating malicious communications after headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson alleged she had been sent threatening messages.

On the decision to close early, Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward said the first priority was the safety of pupils, families and staff, after protests had "escalated significantly" in the past week.

He added: "I support the extremely difficult decision that has been taken to close Anderton Park School at lunchtime on Friday.

"Birmingham City Council is continuing to work with the police to ensure that measures are put in place to support the Anderton Park community when school reopens on Monday June 3, and I urge parents to engage with the school if they have concerns about equalities education.”

Mr Ward added: "The staff and pupils of Anderton Park have shown remarkable resilience in the face of increasingly unpleasant protests over recent weeks.”

Birmingham City Council is looking into whether it could employ a public space protection order to move demonstrations away from the school.

Shakeel Afsar, the organiser of the protests, who has a niece and nephew at the school but no children of his own, said that without further "mediation” a rally would be going ahead on Friday.

Mr Afsar has claimed demonstrations are continuing because the school is using "children as pawns" by teaching LGBT+ equality which are "over-emphasising a gay ethos".

He has rejected allegations the protests are homophobic, claiming the school should respect the protesters' "moral beliefs".

Labour MP Jess Phillips clashed with Mr Afsar in an exchange outside the school this week when she told him demonstrators could not "pick and choose" which equality they apply.

But on the same week, constituency Labour MP Roger Godsiff said he "understood" parents' concerns over whether all the material is "age-appropriate" for four and five-year-olds.

The row over LGBT+ lessons has led to protests outside two primary schools in Birmingham so far, but school leaders across the country have raised concerns about growing opposition.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: “The protests and concerns have been raised in a number of regions and we are working with the Department for Education and other agencies in monitoring and responding to this."

He added: “Schools that are teaching content about equality should not be put under pressure to stop. They are doing their duty to foster good relations in the communities they serve.”

Damian Hinds, education secretary, said: “It is unacceptable that children at Anderton Park are missing out on education because of the threat of protests. There is no place for protests outside school gates.

"They can frighten children, intimidate staff and parents and, in the worst cases, be hijacked by individuals with a vested interest and no links to the schools. It is time for these protests to stop."

He added: “It's unacceptable that this school finds itself in a position where it feels it has no choice but to close early for the last day of term.”