Friday 25 October 2019

How should we be discussing the new Relationship and Sex Education requirements in Brent?

I was rather surprised to see that a presentation on Relationship and Sex Education  (RSE) at Tuesday's meeting of Brent senior officers and school governors is to be given by Sophie Taylor, who is Deputy Director for Due Diligence and Counter Extremism at the Department for Education. The new requirements and guidance on RESE come into effect in September 2020.

I assume that the agenda is connected with events in Birmingham where some parents have protested outside a primary school about its teaching on these issues LINK.  However to make an explicit connection between 'Extremism' and concerns about RSE in the Brent context seems to run counter to commonsense when retaining the confidence of the community and parents in our schools and working with them should be our priority.

The issue came up in the July Council meeting and these are the relevant Minutes:

Question from Cllr Daniel Kennelly to Cllr Amer Agha, Lead Member for Schools, Employment and Skills

Can the Lead Member for Schools, Employment and Skills set out the measures that the Department for Education published in its statutory guidance on the teaching of Relationships Education? 

The Department for Education has announced that from 2020, relationships education will be compulsory for all primary school children and relationships and sex education will be compulsory for all secondary school children. The Department for Education published on the 25th February 2019 draft regulations and statutory guidance on Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education, setting out what the requirements will be from 2020. This statutory guidance sets out what schools should do and sets out the legal duties with which schools must comply when teaching Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education. 

This comes 20 years after the government last made changes to health, relationships and sex education and is in the context of a world that looks significantly different to children from 20 years ago, with significant changes for how children develop their relationships, including understanding the risks for children online and the development of social media as a key feature in the majority of children's lives. 

The guidance states that from September 2020 all schools must have in place a written policy for Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education. Schools must consult parents in developing and reviewing their policy. Schools should ensure that the policy meets the needs of pupils and parents and reflects the community they serve. The policy should set out the subject content, how it is taught, who is responsible for teaching it and how the subject is monitored and evaluated. 

For primary education, the Policy should define Relationships Education and include information to clarify why parents do not have a right to withdraw their child. For secondary education, the policy should define Relationships and Sex Education and include information about a parent’s right to request that their child be excused from sex education within RSE only. 

The guidance sets out what by the end of primary school pupils should know about under the headings “families and people who care for me”, “caring friendships”, “respectful relationships,” “online relationships” and “being safe.” The guidance also sets out what in addition pupils should know by the end of secondary school under the headings “families”, “respectful relationships”, “online and media”, “being safe” and “intimate and sexual relationships including sexual health”. 

There are a number of myths being circulated regarding the 2020 changes. The first is that schools will from 2020 be required to teach concepts and values that are contradictory to some religious beliefs. This is not the case. Schools are required to comply with relevant requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty, which means, in making decisions, having due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Equality Act, and to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and people who do not share it. The guidance states that “the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching.” 

A second myth is that these changes will conflict or compromise parents’ ability to educate their children according to their own religious or philosophical beliefs. How this curriculum will be taught will be a matter for individual schools, who will consult with parents before the introduction of the new relationships education and will listen to their views. 

Governing Boards, which will include parent Governors as members, will then work with their teaching staff to deliver the most age appropriate elements of the new curriculum to the pupils. Schools will have the ability to amend their approach if they believe it is necessary to support pupils and families at the school. 

Brent is home to one of the most diverse communities in the UK and this is one of our strengths. We strive to be an inclusive society and to ensure that everyone in the borough feels welcome and included. This means embracing the modern world we live in, and understanding and celebrating our various differences and addressing the context in which our children are growing up.

Councillor Kennelly thanked Councillor Agha (Lead Member for Schools, Employment and Skills) for his response in relation to the Department for Education (DfE) guidance on the teaching of Relationship Education. Before moving on to his supplementary question he took the opportunity, following on from the Mayor’s Announcements, to also pay tribute to Pride and the LGBTQ+ community and to express his support for the Armed Forces community in recognition of Armed Forces Day.

In terms of a supplementary question, whilst recognising that the Lead Member had acknowledged the challenges faced in addressing the myths surrounding the DfE guidance, Councillor Kennelly asked what further assurance could be provided in terms of the support being made available for schools in order to address any concerns or difficulties experienced.

In response, Councillor Agha advised that the Council was using a number of different strategies and methods such as the Brent School Partnership, the Schools Forum and the Annual School Governors Conference to disseminate advice and guidance and provide support to schools and their governors to assist them in complying with the statutory guidance. He felt it was important to remember, however, that the way in which the curriculum was taught would be a matter for individual schools and their Governing Bodies. Whilst expected to consult with parents prior to its introduction, schools and their Governing Bodies would have the ability to amend their final approach, if felt necessary, in order to support pupils and families at the school. He therefore reminded members of the importance of Governing Bodies and encouraged any members not already involved to consider becoming school governors in order to be able to individually offer their help and support.

Councillor S.Choudhary sought further details on the teaching of relationship education in schools, particularly given concerns around parents seeking to withdraw their children from relationship and sex education as a result of cultural and religious beliefs. He asked the Lead Member for his views on what more could be done to inform and educate parents on the new guidance in order to dispel the myths identified relating to its introduction and impact.

In response, Councillor Agha (Lead Member for Education, Employment andSkills) advised that it was important to recognise that the Council could not issue any direction in this matter and that it would be up to individual schools and their Governing Bodies to decide how they would teach the curriculum and implement the guidance from the Department of Education. He pointed out that the introduction of the new guidance would need to be undertaken in consultation with parents, taking account of the religious background of all pupils as part of the planning process, with the Council offering support and guidance, as required, in order to ensure schools were complying with the necessary requirements.
The approach outlined in the replies with its emphasis on working with parents seems sensible.  Successful RSE will depend on an open and transparent relationship between school staff, governors and parents. Anything that suggests a hidden agenda or stereotyping of communities is likely to cause distrust.
Relationship, Sex and Health Education - What schools need to know 


Anonymous said...

Homophobia is an example of extremism.

Anonymous said...

Dislike of or prejudice against somebody because they love another human being who happens to be of the same sex is not a good or helpful example of extremism in my opinion. Potentially stifling debate by labelling or implying that a group of people are extremists could be construed as extremist too. Open and honest dialogue is the best way to challenge ignorance and misconceptions. Gender, sexuality, race, religion, differences should not matter. You respect me and I respect you. We can ALL do better. This is what we should be teaching in schools and at home.

Anonymous said...

"Gender, sexuality, race, religion, differences" only don't matter to normative people. Discrimination, abuse, ill treatment is real and you do not respect anyone if you are not willing to accept that homophobia and other isms are by definitions examples of extremism. No homophobic parents are representative of any community or group so if your assumption is that homophobia is representative of any group, then yes that is extremist.