Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, has unequivocally stated that parents have the right to access sex education material taught in English schools. In a recent announcement, she underscored that parents could take home the educational material if they were unable to attend in-school presentations or access designated parent portals.
Compulsion of RSHE
This development coincides with the imminent launch of a public consultation by the government into the Relationship, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE) curriculum. It is noteworthy that RSHE has been compulsory in schools across England since September 2020. The curriculum mandates that primary schools impart instruction on the “key building blocks of healthy, respectful relationships” as a component of the national curriculum. For secondary schools, official guidelines dictate that pupils “should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health, and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way.”
External Agencies to Conduct Classes
Schools have the prerogative to invite external agencies to conduct classes on these subjects, provided they adhere to safeguarding rules. However, the guidance emphasizes that external groups should “enhance and not replace” teaching provided by school staff. Addressing a common misconception, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan affirmed in a letter that parents have the right to access the material being taught to their children. She aimed to “debunk the copyright myth that parents cannot see what their children are being taught.”
Mixed Response from Stakeholders
The directive has been met with mixed responses from stakeholders in the education sector. Tanya Carter, representing the Safe Schools Alliance, expressed a sentiment that the directive may be perceived as “too little too late.” She called for a public inquiry into the way RSHE has been taught in schools and voiced concerns that the directive may be disregarded by activist teachers.
Geoff Barton, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the clarification regarding copyright law and agreed that transparency regarding RSHE materials is pivotal. He noted that most schools already share such information upon request. However, Barton found it somewhat unusual that the directive was issued during many schools’ half-term break, and he raised concerns regarding the absence of prior discussions with the education sector.
Engagement between Schools and Parents.
Lucy Emmerson, Chief Executive of the Sex Education Forum, has championed meaningful engagement between schools and parents. She believes that parents are largely supportive of RSHE lessons and emphasizes that regular communication between schools and parents helps parents anticipate the subject matter. She also highlighted that the benefits of RSHE are most significant when schools and parents work together.
The stance of parents directly affected by these educational materials varies. Parents of pupils at Sacred Heart R.C. Primary School in Bolton expressed appreciation for the transparency and openness demonstrated by teachers in their interactions with parents. Carly, one of the parents, expressed full confidence in the school’s approach to Relationship and Sex Education (RSE), emphasizing that it is based on factual information.
As the public consultation on RSHE approaches, the debate surrounding sex education material access continues, with various stakeholders advocating for transparency, open dialogue, and meaningful engagement with parents.