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RSE, Covid & Consultation – A Head’s Perspective

The last 6 or 7 months have thrown so much into confusion, uncertainty and in some instances – for schools with the exams results this summer – chaos.

This has proved especially true for the incoming rules on Relationship & Sex Education (RSE) – that have proved to be so controversial and have provoked a series of law cases and protests.

The law was passed, and the guidance as to how to implement it, in 2019.

The new curricula/lessons were to be commenced in September 2020.

There was to be mandatory consultation on each school’s policy before this was done.

Covid and the lockdown, that meant any real consultation would be hard to implement or complete if not done by March 2020, prompted the government to a sensible delay of implementation till the Summer Term 2021.

This would allow both the mandatory legal consultation to take place, and give schools enough time to plan for RSE  reeling as they all are from the intense pressures of Covid, keyworkers, online lesson and the rules for re-opening this September.

What has happened now we are at the Autumn half-term?

The law remains the same and, for parents, the rights they have are intact – on paper. This is a brief and selective summary, with paragraphs from the Guidance quoted of what they are:

1. RSE is mandatory from Sept 2020. Due to Covid, and lockdown, its mandatory implementation has been delayed until Summer Term 2021.
2. The following elements of the law need to be noted by schools:
a) Consultation with Parents over policy is mandatory under the law before it is issued (lack of this may invalidate any policy the school uses and leave it open to legal challenge).
b) The S part (Sex Education) is not mandatory in Primary Schools, but it is in Senior schools (the R relationship part is mandatory for all).
c) Parents have the absolute right in Primary Schools to withdraw their children from Sex Education (paras 45 & 49 of attached Guidance); and a qualified right in Secondary schools (paras 45/46/47). The process should be documented (para 45).
d) Schools should ensure they communicate this right to parents (para 41).
e) Parents have the right to see materials being proposed for use (para 24 and also 41 of attached Guidance).
f) Governors are under a duty to ensure clear information is provided for parents on the subject content and the right to request that their child is withdrawn (para 38).
g) The religious background of pupils must be taken into account (para 20), as must the protected characteristic of the Equality Act that is religion (para 20).

What has happened? Of course many schools have carried out their consultation, followed the letter and spirit of the law, and borne in mind what the guidance says in working with parents as “the first teachers of their children” (para 40) and the “prime educators for children” (Secretary of State’s Foreword to the Guidance).

But what we at ParentPower have seen over and over again is something that not just does not meet the letter, but completely deviates from the spirit of the law – and one might add the fundamental human right of parents (Human Rights Act 1998, Protocol 1 Article 2) to ensure … education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

In too many instances the pattern over and over again is:

1. Consultation either does not take place or is perfunctory and performs lip-service to the law only – a meeting for parents (often a zoom option now) of just an hour at times; little discussion; often online with no follow-up.
2. Programmes bought off the shelf – Jigsaw for example – presented to parents with no option given to discuss or present alternatives.
3. The duty to present materials often obfuscated and denied by arguments about copyright attaching to bought in programmes, and no honouring of the law on information provision.
4. Merging of the R and S parts into lessons, from which it is claimed there can then be withdrawal as they are Relationship classes.
5. Parents urged not to withdraw their children from classes as it might “stigmatise” them.

Parents confronted with these approaches find it hard to combine with other parents, as schools will identify them as trouble-makers.

Over and over again, parents have decided to withdraw their children from schools, home educate, or seek schools where the Head and Governors WILL listen to them.

If this continues, the harvest of RSE will not be balanced, mature, resilient children being made “fit for life in Modern Britain”, as previous Ofsted criteria demanded, but division, dispute and the destruction of trust between parents and the state.

Parents may find that they alone are the final protectors of their children in the process now playing out before us this academic year.

Edmund Matyjaszek
Priory School of Our Lady of Walsingham, Isle of Wight

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