Letter to Education Secretary on ‘conversion therapy’ ban

24 January 2022

Christian Concern’s Andrea Williams (Chief Executive) and Steve Beegoo (Head of Education) have written to the Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi to warn him about the impact on education of the government’s proposed ‘conversion therapy’ ban.

Dear Mr Zahawi,

We write to you regarding our deep concerns about the impact on schoolchildren of the proposed ban on so called ‘conversion therapy’. Christian Concern has a wide range of experience supporting and representing many teachers and staff involved in education. Several high-profile education cases include that of Bernard Randall and Izzy Montague. We have regularly supported the government by engaging in providing detailed responses to government consultations on education issues.

We understand that the government’s intention is to seek to protect children. However, we regularly encounter families, schools’ workers, and children, who could be harmed by the current proposals. It has become very clear to us that the worryingly wide definition of what can be described as ‘conversion therapy’, including pastoral conversations, will result in many highly disturbing outcomes for children and in schools. We would want to make you aware of the following serious issues arising, should the proposals be accepted:

1. Professionals and teachers will become increasingly reluctant to speak to children and young people who are questioning aspects of their sexuality, as the area becomes charged with the potential for allegations of ‘criminal advice’ having been given. The fluidity of sexuality is being highlighted in proposals, and clearly human beings are at their most questioning time when they are developing into young adults. In seeking to close ‘loopholes’, the proposals would shut down normal supportive and protective conversations. The proposals will harm children who may need to talk about this sensitive and personal area of sexuality with a school professional.

2. Some children and young people want to remain in their biological sex category, despite their feelings. These will remain dangerously unsupported, as allegations leading to criminal convictions and a bar from working with children, could result from any adult who does not affirm a child into a trajectory towards changing gender. This will harm children, especially when research shows the vast majority grow beyond gender dysphoria as they come through puberty, and that those who are encouraged to explore this, almost inevitably end up with damaging puberty blockers and irreversible surgery. This could also cause a significant conflict with parents who do not want their child, particularly at younger ages, to be affirmed in their gender dysphoria.

3. Religious groups offer pastoral conversations, alongside and before prayer, as part of their religious practices. This includes school chaplains and teachers. Should any child or young person ask for prayer for something they want, the offer of prayer through a pastoral conversation, even in line with the child’s wishes, might be criminalised under the proposals. This would be a breach of their human rights and would discriminate against their own religious traditions and convictions.

4. Immature, autistic and other SEND children are extremely vulnerable and much more likely to believe and obsess upon transitioning as being the solution to their, often multiple, challenges. Banning very broadly defined ‘conversion therapy’, will prevent the pastoral and safeguarding advice being given by professionals, wherever that seeks to reduce transgender or homosexual behaviour, which may be deemed by a professional to be harmful to the child. The number of autistic girls transitioning has rocketed from the recent research, due to the positive affirmation approach being believed to be the only one which will protect children. We are aware that such transgender affirming policies are already being subjected to a number of legal challenges. The government appears to be taking advice driven by poor scientific evidence, and political activism.

The government has a duty to protect children from the impact of ‘progressive’ and aggressive political ideologies, which are becoming increasingly promoted in our schools. We have regular and ongoing communications with hundreds of parents and schools’ workers highlighting these issues to us. The proposed ban will make this situation considerably worse for the children of our schools.

In addition, the Department for Education is clear that it does not wish for equality obligations to ‘undermine the ethos of faith-based education providers’, as stated in the ‘Equality Act 2010: Advice for Schools’ guidance. If the proposed ‘conversion therapy’ legislation is as sweeping as described, it will have the effect of not only undermining the Christian ethos of many schools we support but could also be the proverbial death knell for any authentic Christian education which is founded on a biblical understanding of identity, sex and sexuality.

Finally, the initial publication of the ‘easy read’ version of the consultation evidenced that teachers were meant to be significantly caught by the ban on conversations. Teachers, tutors and chaplains regularly take on pastoral conversations which could very easily be considered as pastoral counselling in legal terms. ‘Counsellors’ in the subsequent editing, remains in the ‘easy read’ version. Again, the broad definitions of counsellors and conversations will be highly likely to result in criminalising teachers.

We would ask you to take these points seriously in your communications with your colleagues in the cabinet and with the prime minister. We would ask that these issues be urgently raised within the Department, with those who will be providing advice and counsel on how the proposed ban will affect children and young people, and the work of our schools. We believe that the proposed ban should be withdrawn, and that the department should support its withdrawal.

We would like to request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience to provide further evidence and justification for our concerns and how the proposed ‘conversion therapy’ ban will harm children and teachers.

Yours sincerely,

Andrea Williams (Chief Executive)
Steve Beegoo NPQH BSc PGCE (Head of Education)

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