Photo by Klaus Vedfelt
Artillery Row

Shameful behaviour

The concerning case of Izzy Montague and LGBT education

Earlier this week, the County Court issued its long-awaited judgment in the case of Izzy Montague and her family against Heavers Farm Primary School, a maintained school in Croydon. The case centred around a Christian mother’s objections to her son receiving what she understood to be highly ideological and age-inappropriate LGBT education, including forced participation in an LGBT-themed parade held by the school. Following her objection, the school engaged in a pattern of behaviour which eventually led to the Montague’s removing their son from the school and bringing a legal challenge over their treatment.

The Country Court dismissed her claims for discrimination, victimisation and breaches of the Human Rights Act and Equality Act. The Montagues, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, will appeal the case.

The Background

In 2017, Izzy and Shane Montague enrolled their then 4-year-old son into Heavers Farm school. Towards the close of the school year, the school began focusing on LGBT education. Parents were sent a rainbow embossed invitation for them to come and attend the school’s Pride Parade. Parents were told, in no uncertain terms, that this was a legal requirement and that the school had to hold the parade. The school also informed parents that participation in the event was mandatory.

The school was flooded by complaints both secular and religious

As part of the preparation for the parade, the school had each year group create rainbow themed art, which the lesson plan described as being a project done to show support for the diverse LGBT community. In reception, where the Montague’s son attended, he was required to take part in an activity where he was first given boys clothes and toys and then given girls toys and clothes and told that it was okay to wear or play with any of it. In Year 1, as part of their preparation for the parade, children were shown a video of young Swedish children marching and chanting LGBT slogans. In other classes, children were shown a video of two men kissing in front of a crowd of people celebrating them for having done so.

The parade itself featured children marching around the school singing three songs, two of which were popular gay anthems, one of which was projected onto a rainbow coloured screen. Rainbow flags and art could be seen everywhere, including large prominent flags placed at the school entrance and amongst the children. A significant number of teachers were photographed proudly wearing their LGBT campaigning t-shirts, with one teacher even wrapping himself in a Pride flag.

Steven Reed, an openly gay MP, and keynote speaker at the Parade, later tweeted photos of the event evidencing the deluge of rainbow themed decorations and flags. He commented on how great it was to be celebrating Pride with the staff and children of Heavers Farm.

Izzy’s Complaint and the Subsequent Fall Out

After requesting that her son be withdrawn from the parade, Mrs Montague was told that if her son did not attend it would be seen as a behavioural issue. At least one other parent, a Muslim man, was also told that he would be breaking the law if he kept his child at home on the day of the parade. Despite this, the school was flooded by complaints both of a secular and religious nature, with 182 parents keeping their kids from school on the day of the event.

At a formal meeting between Mrs Montague and the school hierarchy to discuss the concerns, the head teacher’s daughter wore a t-shirt which read: “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic, when you can just be quiet?” The Montagues were also warned at the outset of the meeting that should they say anything homophobic, the meeting would be stopped immediately.
On the day that the school sent its response to Izzy denying any wrongdoing and dismissing her complaints, her son, who had never received a detention before, was given a 2-hour detention. He was also given a second detention the following day as further punishment. Ultimately, Mrs Montague was banned from the schoolyard because of her efforts to get answers about the detention, a move which was criticised by the Court as violating its school policies. Izzy ultimately had to file a subject access request with the school to get the desired information, a request which was answered only after the statutory deadline elapsed.

The Head of School denied understanding Stonewall as a gay charity

Believing she was being bullied and refusing to be silenced, Mrs Montague faced no alternative but to withdraw her son from the school and launched legal action.

The trial provided no shortage of evidence of a school that was driven by ideology at all costs. On cross examination, two members of the leadership team, including the school’s head teacher Susan Papas, and the Montague’s son’s teacher during the relevant time, all testified that they believed Christian views about homosexual behaviour and relationships were homophobic. When asked about the school’s teaching on family structures, none of the school’s leadership team, whilst under oath, would admit that a mother must be biologically female. The Head of School, Robert Askew, when asked about Stonewall, denied understanding it as a gay charity. He said its focus was on fighting for equality.

During oral evidence, the various witnesses were asked about internal emails where the school criticised parents as being bigots. The headteacher also commented on the views of one parent who objected to their child’s participation in the parade on religious grounds, stating that it was because of parents like this that the Pride parade must be mandatory. In an email sent to a supporter of the Pride event, the Headteacher would also smear Mrs Montague: “This parent really does have a strange (and offensive) take on the world; we are working hard to make sure that the children in our schools don’t share these views!”

One family, complaining that their son could not attend the event on religious grounds, claimed that his son was bullied by his TA for his beliefs and told that his parents were wrong. The family claimed that he was well aware that the school punished dissenters, children and adults alike.

As an aside, in my five years standing alongside Izzy and her family in this battle, one of the most shocking aspects of being introduced to Heavers Farm has been the number of parents I have met or who have reached out to me and claimed to have been abused by the school, either through the treatment of their child or personally. One parent of a former student confessed to me that her child still needs therapy after how he was treated by the school’s leadership.

The Judgment

The County Court’s judgment was remarkable for all of the wrong reasons. Perhaps the most astounding findings of the court was that the parade — despite having every appearance of it being, just as it had been advertised, a Pride parade — was in fact not LGBT-centred but was all about equality and diversity. The judgment went so far as to claim that there was nothing inconsistent between the parade and the family’s Christian beliefs.

In another finding, the Court mused that the messaging of a Stonewall poster displayed at the school which read, “Some people are gay. Get over it!” was essentially the same as Christian teaching. It should be noted that the Court of Appeal, dealing with the same slogan but in the context of it being placed on public transport, found that a large number of the public could rightly be offended by the slogan, especially those who held different views on the subject.

RSE was a complete rehaul of how relationships would be taught in schools

Perhaps equally startling was the Court’s lack of familiarity with education law, the case-law before it or even the pleadings. In the most obvious example, in trying to draw a distinction between relationship education and a school’s obligation to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, the Court cited guidance relating to legal requirements that were not in place until two years after the events in this case had taken place. Correcting the mistake in the final judgment, but including a footnote highlighting the error, the judgment then quoted guidance on the teaching about the nature of marriage and healthy relationships as proof that the school’s teaching was not sex education and therefore not subject to opt-out. Unknown to the judge, apparently, is that at the relevant time, teaching about the nature of marriage and relationships was a statutory requirement for sex education in secondary schools and therefore subject to an opt-out. Precisely stated, to make his point that the LGBT teaching of the school was not sex education, the court referenced guidance about Section 403(1A) of the Education Act 1996, titled: “Sex Education: Manner of Provision”.

In relation to the change in the final judgment, Ian Clarke, counsel for Heavers Farm and an experienced education lawyer, argued before the Court that Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) was merely a re-badging of Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), the latter being in place in 2018 when the events of the case took place. He quipped that it was little more than a reversing of two letters. Nothing further from the truth could be the case, making his arguments either a wilful act of misleading the court or ignorance of the relevant law. RSE was a complete rehaul of how relationships would be taught in schools, including a slew of new statutory requirements, parliamentary debate and a public consultation.

Elsewhere in the judgment, the Court ruled that the school curriculum escapes review under the Human Rights Act. At paragraph 72 of the judgment, the court found: “I am satisfied that the Claimants do not have right to claim under the HRA in relation to the content of the curriculum.” However, the Court repeatedly references two cases where the European Court of Human Rights did in fact find violations under the European Convention on Human Rights, due to the content of the national curriculum. Had he read the judgments he cited, this would have been obvious, since the cases were only about challenges to the national curriculum.

Perhaps more than anything, the Court was wrong to tell the Montagues how they should be manifesting their Christian beliefs. The Court must have also been keenly aware that the way the judgment speaks to LGBT teaching being consistent with the Montague’s Christian beliefs would be highly offensive to them. 

All of this makes a very appealable judgment. History has shown in these types of cases that often, where the lower courts have got it wrong, the higher courts save the day. Felix Ngole was not vindicated for expressing his Christian beliefs on social media until his case reached the Court of Appeal. Ashers Bakery had to wait until their case made it to the Supreme Court before their right to manifest their Christian beliefs were upheld. Nadia Eweida, the British Airways flight attendant sanctioned for refusing to remove her cross, endured until her case was heard in Strasbourg before her rights were vindicated.


Izzy Montague is a fighter. She and her family will not relent. She has put everything on the line and suffered public attack and vitriol, to protect the innocence of her son. As more and more news breaks about aggressive and age inappropriate LGBT and sex education in our schools, the government has announced a review of RSE. I truly believe that Izzy, being the first to put her head above the parapet on this issue so publicly, deserves her fair share of credit for that review taking place. I am equally confident that when all the dust settles, her family will find themselves on the right side of a court judgment saying that what was done to them, and how the school trampled their parental rights, was a legal and moral failing.

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