The teaching of relationships and sex education has gained more attention in recent weeks, specifically the teaching of LGBT relationships to primary age pupils. The decision of Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham to teach the LGBT-inclusive content to their pupils, the majority of whom are Muslim, has led to organised protests, the intimidation of parents outside the school gates and most worryingly of all, threats being made to the Headteacher and her staff. Last week Birmingham City Council obtained a High Court order to ban mass gatherings in sight and sound of the school.
NGA condemns this behaviour and anyone who seeks to undermine a schools relationship with its community. Our values stand for the rights of all children, celebrate diversity and difference as a strength. We believe that democracy, equality and the rule of law are central to the school’s ethos and that all groups protected by the Equalities Act 2010 must be respected. It has been distressing to witness extreme fringe movements targeting individuals who have dedicated their professional lives to the educational welfare of all pupils, regardless of their backgrounds.
The teaching of relationships education in the primary phase and Relationships and Sex Education in the secondary phase will become compulsory for the first time from September 2020. However, there is no simple answer to the question of what exactly should be taught and how. The Department for Education (DfE) has been clear in stating that pupils should receive teaching on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relationships during their school years (at secondary this means including LGBT content in the RSE curriculum and for primary schools including it if it is considered age appropriate to do so). However, it has not provided any clear guidelines on what should be shared about same sex families as part of equality teaching. School leaders and governing boards are therefore being left to navigate complex issues that invoke religious beliefs and cultural tenets.
Ensuring that the voices of the school’s stakeholders are heard is a fundamental part of school governance that is in danger of getting lost under the huge workload of compliance. It should come as no surprise therefore that NGA is highlighting the requirement upon schools to consult with parents when developing and reviewing their policies for RSE. Schools should be consulting well in advance of the 2020 implementation on how they intend to deliver RSE and ensure that children learn about the variety of relationships in society. A genuine and meaningful consultation should help to instil confidence by allowing concerns to be shared and ways forward to be established in a climate of mutual respect and tolerance. It also counterbalances the type of divisive rhetoric and deliberate misrepresentation that has thwarted Anderton Park’s genuine attempt to address the concerns of its parents
Whilst it should be made clear that parents and carers have no right to veto the professional choices made by school leaders, it is nevertheless important that governors and trustees lead the way, reach out and create a genuine interface between family, community and school. NGA is currently updating its guidance for governors and trustees on engaging parents that includes some tried and tested tools to help schools do this well.