Family & Education

BBC programme exposes tensions over sex education

Programme questions whether Charedi schools are putting undue pressure on parents to opt their children out of sex education


Over the past year we have reported extensively on the problems Charedi schools face from the government’s new relationships and sex education policy. Now the issue has reached national TV.

On BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on Tuesday, two mothers complained they were coming under pressure from schools in Stamford Hill to stop their daughters receiving sex education.

One received an email from the Lubavitch Senior Girls’ School asking her to help “prevent” RSE (relationships and sex education) being taught.

Another, in a phone call with a staff member from the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, was told:  “We need parents to formally say, ‘I do not want you to teach my child about single-gender relationships or sex education within the school’, unless you do as a parent want that.”

Although the Yesodey Hatorah mother did support sex education, believing Charedi children needed it more than others because the community was “so insular”, she said, she was worried she would be ostracised if she did request it.

Both schools, which are state-aided, denied doing anything wrong.

Rabbi Shmuel Lew, principal of the Lubavitch school, told the JC it had worked hard to keep parents fully informed about the impact of RSE legislation. “Our communication with parents was designed to enable parental choice,” he said.“ Our intention was to inform parents of their legal right to opt their children out of sex education, if they so choose.”

In a statement, Yesodey Hatorah said it was “important that we let parents know that their child will be given sex education at school — unless they opt out.” Accusations of coercion were “entirely false”. 

According to government policy, which comes into effect next September,  relationships education will be compulsory for children throughout their schooling.

Sex education remains optional at primary schools, and in secondary schools, parents can ask for children to be withdrawn from it; at 15, children can decide that themselves.

RSE must be “age appropriate” and sensitive to children’s religious backgrounds. Schools also have been given some freedom to define what they teach as relationships education and what as sex education.

Parents are meant to be consulted about the RSE curriculum and informed about opt-outing from sex education. But the legislation seems clear that even if just one parent wants it, the school must deliver it. It takes a bold parent, however, to defy the prevailing community view.

The email from Lubavitch shown in the programme wrongly stated children could avoid RSE as a whole.

In fact, the same school correctly explained the government’s policy in a memo to parents earlier this year. 

It said that education about healthy relationships would “necessarily” include LGBT relationships, adding: “We will not promote LGBT relationships; rather we will simply make pupils aware of the existence of them and the need to respect others.”

Although Yesodey Hatorah suggested parents could ask for children not to be taught about “single-gender relationships”, it is questionable whether they enjoy any legal right to do so.

The government’s guidelines specify that children should be told about same-sex relationships before they leave school. That is likely to be seen as part of compulsory relationships education and not as optional sex education.

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