Fears over sex lessons for pupils aged five
Anglo-Jewish educationalists have given a cautious greeting to a government announcement that it wants to introduce compulsory lessons for children aged five to 16 on subjects such as sex and drugs.
The lessons would be brought in under the umbrella of personal, social and health education (PSHE) and will be compulsory from September 2010.
Schools minister Jim Knight said last week that the decision was in response to the findings of a review of sex and relationships education in schools and a report by the Advisory Group on Drug and Alcohol Education, which both recommended that good PSHE was vital to schools providing pupils with a rounded education.
A spokesman for the DCSF admitted: "There are concerns and sensitivities from a lot of faith groups." This was why the ministry had asked a top East London head teacher to lead another review - due to report by next April - about how the lessons will be worked into the curriculum.
Jewish education leaders were worried about what content would be taught and whether parents would continue to have the right to withdraw their children from classes dealing with sex education - something the review will consider.
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, which speaks on education for the community, said: "The Government is keen to understand how different communities view this and how in practice it can be implemented.
"We will work with the Department for Children, Schools and Families on this after consultation with all parts of the community. There is a great deal of scope for discussion about implementation, both with Government and with other faith groups.
"Schools should have wide discretion to determine how to apply any changes, based on non-statutory guidance, and the continued right of parents to withdraw children from such lessons is likely to be an imperative."
Joshua Rowe, chair of governors at King David High School in Manchester, said: "We want to see what the government will do. They have produced a programme for PSHE but they have not said what will be in each year group. The government is not saying that five-year-olds will be taught sex education."
Sex education is already taught in at least one Jewish school. Lenna Rosenberg, head of Barkingside-based primary, Clore Tikva, introduced the lessons soon after joining the school and said they had been very successful.
"We cover sex education through the science curriculum for the early years and through the local authority guidelines for the older children," said Mrs Rosenberg.
"We always consult our parents before we do anything. It is very important to hear what parents have to say because they know their children best and how emotionally able they are.
"In year six, we have an evening for dads and lads and, separately, mums and daughters that are run by the school nurse. The whole thing is based around permanent and loving relationships and works very well."
What they are likely to be taught:
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has suggested that the topics schools can cover will include:
Sex and relationships: at primary school, recognising that animals produce offspring, naming parts of the body, preparing for puberty and being able to talk about feelings. At secondary school, learning how to develop respectful personal relationships; the importance of stable relationships to family life; how risky sexual behaviour contributes to the spread of sexually transmitted illnesses and unplanned pregnancy.
Drugs and alcohol: at primary level, pupils might look at how medicines can affect the body. At secondary, they might study laws around drug and alcohol misuse and their risks and impacts.