Relationship and Sex Education (RSE): Constructive Engagement
As we enter the new academic year 2019/20, some schools in England will be “early-adopters” of the new statutory curriculum on Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) from September 2019, ahead of compulsory adoption by all schools in England by September 2020.
Relationship Education will be taught as standard in all primary schools in England
Relationship & Sex Education will be taught as compulsory in all secondary schools in England
In the opening section of the DfE’s statutory guidance, a summary of the objectives of RSE states:
“To embrace the challenges of creating a happy and successful adult life, pupils need knowledge that will enable them to make informed decisions about their wellbeing, health and relationships and to build their self-efficacy.”
While the Muslim Council of Britain supports the spirit of this objective, numerous MCB affiliates and concerned parents across a variety of faith groups have expressed their strong concerns around the potential implementation methods for schools to achieve this.
The new statutory guidance states that:
All schools must have in place a written policy for Relationships Education and RSE. 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.
And with regards to the faith background of pupils:
A good understanding of pupils’ faith backgrounds and positive relationships between the school and local faith communities help to create a constructive context for the teaching of these subjects.
In all schools, when teaching these subjects, the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching, so that the topics that are included in the core content in this guidance are appropriately handled. Schools must ensure they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010, under which religion or belief are amongst the protected characteristics.
All schools may teach about faith perspectives. In particular, schools with a religious character may teach the distinctive faith perspective on relationships, and balanced debate may take place about issues that are seen as contentious. For example, the school may wish to reflect on faith teachings about certain topics as well as how their faith institutions may support people in matters of relationships and sex.
Further guidance states that the schools’ RSE policy, drawn up by the governing body in consultation with teachers, pupils and parents, must:
describe how RSE is provided and who is responsible for providing it
say how RSE is monitored and evaluated
include information about parents’ right to withdrawal, and
be regularly reviewed.
An RSE policy should also:
make a public statement of the values the school is committed to and which will inform the RSE policy
provide a secure framework for staff to work in
provide guidance for all staff and outside visitors on the approach and methodology used in the delivery of RSE, including providing guidance for staff on talking about specific issues such as sexuality, contraception and abortion (where appropriate)
make links with the school development plan and other relevant school policies, such as equal opportunities and anti-bullying policies, and
give clear guidance on confidentiality, dealing with personal disclosures and child protection issues.
We all have a commitment to supporting our children, ensuring they get the best education and guidance. As the debate around the most appropriate methods to teach pupils in Britain today about these important topics continues, the Muslim Council of Britain calls for Muslim communities to:
1. Engage constructively with the school policy making process
Statutory guidance enshrines the rights for parents to have an influence on the written RSE policy of the school their children attend, and for schools to positively engage with parents. We encourage Muslim parents to:
Read a copy of the school’s RSE policy online and request to speak to the RSE lead at the school
Constructively feedback their views on the contents of the policy
Consider becoming a school governor, joining a Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) or volunteering your professional skills to input into the school’s strategic direction and engage positively with the school’s senior leadership team
2. Develop effective RSE policies and teaching material for Muslim faith schools
Muslim faith schools, like all other schools in England, are required to produce a written policy following the guidance issued by the DfE on RSE, and can choose what teaching material to utilize to deliver effective teaching on this topic in line with their policy.
We urge Muslim school senior leaders, teachers, educators, curriculum writers, subject-specific specialists, philanthropists and funders to support in the development of holistic education frameworks on the topics within RSE for Muslim faith schools, so that they are viewed as models of excellence and professionalism, with the frameworks informing young people in an age-appropriate way about these important topics in the context of Britain today, whilst being faithful to Islam’s principles on these topics and vision for humanity, and embraces parents as the primary educators of their children.
3. Empower parents to discuss RSE topics at home
The family is the most basic and strongest unit of society according to the Islamic faith, and therefore when the family is weak, society as a whole becomes weak. Therefore, we urge parents to take an active involvement in the teaching of topics related to relationship, sex and health education to their children – rather than consider this a subject taught to their children in schools only – and to ensure their children are empowered and feel comfortable to discuss relationship, sex and health issues at home.
The MCB is continuously listening to the views of its affiliates and wider Muslim communities. Anyone wishing to contribute to or discuss further work in this space is welcome to get in touch.