‘Cancel culture’, gender stereotypes and ‘extreme political stances’: What new DfE guidance says about RSE

New guidance on the teaching of relationships and sex education has been published by the Department for Education.

The advice is meant to compliment statutory guidance on the subjects published by the government last year. Schools are supposed to start teaching the subjects this year, but were told they didn’t need to start in September because of Covid-19.

However, the DfE has confirmed to Schools Week today that the additional guidance and teaching materials published last week are all non-statutory, meaning schools don’t have a legal duty to follow them.

Here are key points from the guidance.


1. Explain ‘harm’ of ‘cancel culture’ and no-platforming

The DfE has published sample teacher training slides on a number of different issues, including “respectful relationships”.

In the slides, the DfE states that teachers should “explain the harm caused by ‘cancel culture’ and the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of association to a tolerant and free society”.

They should also “teach that censorship and ‘no platforming’ are harmful and damaging”, and explain that “seeking to get people ‘cancelled’ (e.g. having them removed from their position of authority or job) simply because you disagree with them, is a form of bullying and is not acceptable”.

According to the slide, the “non-statutory training module” is meant to supplement statutory guidance, which schools “should read in full”.

“Schools can choose whether and how to follow or adapt this training module and should refer to the early career framework for pedagogical guidance,” it adds.

The relevant section of the statutory guidance, which schools DO have to follow, simply states that pupils must be taught to “know the importance of respecting others, even when they are very different from them (for example physically, in character, personality or background), or make different choices or have different preferences or beliefs”.


2. Don’t reinforce ‘harmful stereotypes’ on gender

Under the new curriculum, primary schools are encouraged to teach about LGBT relationships, while secondary are expected to do so.

In another piece of non-statutory guidance, Plan your relationships, sex and health curriculum, the DfE urges schools to be “aware that topics involving gender and biological sex can be complex and sensitive matters to navigate”.

Schools should “not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear”, the guidance states.

They should also not use resources which “suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity”, and that schools “should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material”.

However, the guidance goes on to say that teachers “should always seek to treat individual students with sympathy and support”.

The DfE’s statutory guidance states that sexual orientation and gender identity “should be explored at a timely point and in a clear, sensitive and respectful manner”.

“When teaching about these topics, it must be recognised that young people may be discovering or understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity.”


3. Use ‘inclusive language’

In its teacher training module on respectful relationships, the DfE also states that when schools cover LGBT content, they should “ensure inclusive language is used, considering how individual pupils may relate to particular topics”.

It goes on to say: “In this module ‘girls’ refers to those whose natal sex is female. Similarly, ‘boys’ refers to those whose natal sex is male. However, teachers should be aware of the individual needs of all pupils and use inclusive language where possible.”


4. Avoid ‘extreme political stances’

The DfE’s Plan your relationships, sex and health curriculum document also warns schools against using resources produced by organisations that take “extreme political stances”.

Examples of such stances given by the DfE include “a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections”, and opposition “to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly or freedom of religion and conscience”.

Other examples include the “use or endorsement of racist, including antisemitic, language or communications”, the “encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity” and a “failure to condemn illegal activities done in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people or property”.


5. Warning over ‘divisive or victim narratives’

The guidance goes on to state that schools “should not under any circumstances work with external agencies that take or promote extreme positions or use materials produced by such agencies”.

Examples of “extreme positions” include “promoting non-democratic political systems rather than those based on democracy, whether for political or religious reasons or otherwise” and “teaching that requirements of English civil or criminal law may be disregarded whether for political or religious reasons or otherwise”.

They also include “engaging in or encouraging active or persistent harassment or intimidation of individuals in support of their cause”, and “promoting divisive or victim narratives that are harmful to British society” and “selecting and presenting information to make unsubstantiated accusations against state institutions”.

Again, this guidance is non-statutory, which means it is up to schools whether they follow it or not.


6. Teachers should ‘ask for support’

The DfE’s respectful relationships training module states that the new curriculum “covers a wide range of topics, some of which individual teachers might find personally challenging in different ways”.

It states that it is “important” that teachers feel they can “ask for support and raise questions” if they have “personal experience of a topic which makes teaching that content particularly challenging”, or if they have personal views on a topic “that mean you need to discuss how you can ensure the teaching is delivered objectively”.

Teachers should talk to their line manager “in the first instance” if they need support.

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