Keegan steps in over school sex ed lessons ‘copyright myth’

Sample letters drawn up to help schools challenge obstructive curriculum providers

Sample letters drawn up to help schools challenge obstructive curriculum providers

23 Oct 2023, 22:30

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Schools have been told how to spend their pupil premium funding.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan will write to schools again to reiterate the need for leaders to share relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) curriculum materials with parents.

The Department for Education has also drawn up a sample letter that it says schools can use if curriculum providers attempt to forbid the sharing of their resources.

Government said that firms providing lessons “cannot use copyright law to forbid schools from sharing materials” because of the “clear public interest in parents being aware of what their children are being taught”.

The sample letter, to be published tomorrow, will state contractual clauses preventing this are “void on the grounds they are unenforceable”.

Keegan, who will write to schools during half-term tomorrow, said her intervention should help “debunk the copyright myth”.

Delayed RSHE guidance release ‘later in year’

Meanwhile, it has been revealed the DfE’s delayed draft RSHE guidance will be published “for full public consultation later this year”, following its review into the curriculum.

Keegan had “asked an independent panel to advise us on how we can introduce age limits to RSHE teaching” in March. She argued this “will make sure children are always taught sensitive content in an appropriate manner and at the right time”.

Gillian Keegan
Gillian Keegan

At the time, the department said the document would be released in the “coming months”, with the consultation expected to conclude before the end of this December.

In a statement released this evening, Keegan said: “No ifs, no buts and no more excuses. This government is acting to guarantee parents’ fundamental right to know what their children are being taught in sex and relationships education.

“Parents must be empowered to ask and schools should have the confidence to share.”

She has also penned an open letter, due to be sent tomorrow, to parents encouraging them to “have confidence in their right to know what their children are seeing and being taught”.

The DfE stated firms “cannot use copyright law to forbid schools from sharing materials”.

Changes should ‘reassure parents’ over RSHE

Government said if parents are unable to attend a presentation or view resources online, schools may provide copies of materials for them to take home on request. But this is provided parents agree not to copy the content or share it further.

Parentkind CEO Jason Elsom said polls carried out by his charity found “parents wanted to be consulted by schools in advance” of RSHE lessons. He argued they are more likely “to have confidence in the curriculum and be supportive of the content”.

Reacting to the announcement, Geoff Barton, general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, said the “clarification over copyright law is helpful”.

But he is concerned the letter to headteachers and parents “creates an expectation that schools will publish every piece of planning and resource used across the RSHE curriculum”.

‘Unusual to send schools letter in half-term’

“This is a huge additional workload requirement at a time when they are already significantly overburdened.

Geoff Barton

“Schools are in fact doing their level best to provide high-quality RSHE despite the lack of sufficient government investment in staff training or resources to deliver this important requirement.”

Barton added that it was “unusual” Keegan chose “to write to schools at a time when many of them are on half-term breaks. If the government had spoken to the sector in advance of this statement we might have been able to resolve the practical difficulties it raises.”

National Association of Headteachers general secretary Paul Whiteman noted that what was “missing” from the announcement is the RSHE consultation and “much-needed guidance around complex issues such as supporting transgender pupils in school”.

“It is this that both parents and schools need clarity on, and which the government still seem no closer to delivering.”

Keegan wrote to schools seven months ago to remind them they are required by law to publish their RSHE policy and consult parents on it. 

She advised them at the time that they should also provide all curriculum materials to parents and stop entering into contracts that seek to prevent parents from seeing materials.

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