‘Consultation on relationships and sex education does not give parents veto’
Head teachers have been told consultation does not mean parents have the right to veto parts of the new relationships and sex education curriculum.
In a letter to the National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT), Education Secretary Damian Hinds said consulting parents does not allow them to dismiss what they do not want their children learning.
He also said a core part of preparing children for life in modern Britain is ensuring they understand the world they are growing up in.
Writing to NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman, he said: “Head teachers across the country do a fantastic job of leading their schools, and I want to make sure that they, as the people who best know their pupils and communities, are supported to do their jobs.
“Alongside that, I recognise that the issues we have seen in Birmingham in recent weeks are ones that people feel very strongly about, and building consensus is not always easy.
“I have found the reports of teachers feeling intimidated very concerning and my department is supporting the dialogue between the school and parents to find a way forward.”
Some schools in Birmingham, like Parkfield Community School, have seen protests by parents not wanting their children being taught about same sex relationships.
Three new subjects – relationships education from primary school, relationships and sex education at secondary school, and health education for all ages – will form part of the school curriculum in England from 2020.
Primary schoolchildren will not be learning about sexual relationships, but will be learning about having respect for all kinds of people in an age-appropriate way.
Where a maintained primary school chooses to teach aspects of sex education, the school must set this out in its policy and consult with parents on what is to be covered.
Mr Hinds said in his letter: “I want to reassure you and the members you represent that consultation does not provide a parental veto on curriculum content.
“We want schools to consult parents, listen to their views, and make reasonable decisions about how to proceed – including through consideration of their wider duties – and we will support them in this.”
Parents retain the right to withdraw their child from sex education.
Secondary schools are expected to include LGBT content, while primary schools are enabled encouraged to cover LGBT content if they consider it age appropriate to do so.
Mr Hinds wrote that he wants all children to leave school “prepared for life in a modern, diverse Britain”.
He added that schools are required to comply with relevant requirements of the Equality Act 2010.
The Act lists a number of protected characteristics, age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
Mr Whiteman said: “The Equality Act places an obligation on schools to talk to pupils about the differences between themselves and their peers.
“This is important because all children have a right to go home to whatever family they have without being forced to question whether their home life is any less loving or safe or proper than their friends’ families, just because they look, sound or seem different.
“To some, this is unpalatable. But the law is the law.
“In fact, the law that permits a person to follow their chosen religion or hold a belief without being discriminated against is the same law that protects someone else’s sexual orientation, or disability, or race.
“The law does not permit schools to pick which ones it educates pupils about.”