Parents should have the right to take their children out of LGBT lessons in primary schools, Esther McVey has said.
The Tory leadership hopeful, who could be UK’s next prime minister, sparker a row with fellow Tory Justine Greening as she waded into the debate over including same sex couples in relationship education.
Parents at Anderton Primary School in Birmingham have been protesting over the issue and are at loggerheads with teachers and the local authority.
They claim that children aged four and five are too young to be taught about same-sex relationships.
And McVey appeared to back them up, telling Sky News: “I’m very clear, the final say is with the parents.
“And if parents want to take their young children, at a primary school, out of certain forms of sex education, relationship education, then that is down to them.”
Her intervention was criticised by former education secretary Justine Greening, who told her Tory colleague: “You can’t pick and choose on human rights and equality.
“Children should understand a modern and diverse Britain they’re growing up in.”
The headteacher of Anderton Primary School has already met with about 60 parents to discuss concerns, but there are more than 300 parents who refuse to enter into talks.
Relationships education is due to become statutory in all schools in England from September 2020, and fears are mounting that a failure to resolve the issue in Birmingham could see it escalate on a wider scale.
Education secretary Damian Hinds responded to calls from teachers for more support on the issue by saying the decision is for schools, not parents.
Hinds said it was right parents were involved in developing how schools deliver relationships education, but insisted “what is taught, and how, is ultimately a decision for the school.”
But some have said the minister did not go far enough and that central government should have made a national ruling.
McVey, who is looking to boost her leadership credentials in the race to succeed Theresa May, hit out at those protesting, saying: “People shouldn’t be protesting outside primary schools. That’s young children going into school there. Everyone has to be a little bit more adult, a little bit more grown up about what they do outside a primary school.”
It is the second time that a row over schooling has erupted in Birmingham.
The last time was during the so-called Trojan Horse scandal in 2014, when Ofsted found evidence of strict religious practices being imposed in secular schools in Birmingham.