The education secretary has reassured headteachers that consulting with parents about new relationships and sex education “does not provide a parental veto on curriculum content”.
In a letter to the NAHT union, Damian Hinds has said it is “important” for schools to consult with parents and carers about the way they plan to teach the new RSE curriculum, but that “what is taught, and how, is ultimately a decision for the school”.
From 2020, relationships and health education will be compulsory in all schools and sex education will be mandatory in all secondaries. As part of the reforms, schools have to teach about LGBT relationships, but it will be up to heads when such lessons take place.
However, protests over existing LGBT lessons at schools in Birmingham have prompted fears of further reprisals for schools that adopt the government’s new guidance, set to come into effect next September.
Parkfield Community School in Birmingham has been forced to suspend teaching its ‘No Outsiders’ programme in the face of opposition from the community, despite having received the back of Hinds, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman and others.
In a letter to Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, Hinds said the government wants to ensure schools are listening to and considering the views of parents, but insisted that his department would “trust and support headteachers to make decisions that are in the best interests of their pupils.”
Hinds also addressed growing concerns that some non-parental groups have been encouraging protests by spreading incorrect information about exactly what the new curriculum will entail.
Last month, Sam Offord, head of Birchfields Primary School in Manchester, told Schools Week that parents at her school were being fed “complete misinformation” about relationships education, and said there was a “misuse of social media to whip up vulnerable people” by certain groups.
Hinds said it was “regrettable that myths and misinformation” were being “circulated often by individuals with no links to the education system” and undermining the work of headteachers and the rights of parents to be consulted, and said the DfE is “clear that dedicated public servants faithfully discharging their duty have an absolute right to feel confident and safe.”
“I am pleased that my department and the NAHT will continue to work together to establish the right practical support for school leaders facing difficult circumstances as a result of any local controversy because of the approach to relationships education and RSE,” he said.
The letter to Whiteman was sent today, following a meeting between the NAHT and officials at the DfE to address concerns about the implementation of the new curriculums.
Whiteman said the union was “encouraged” by the letter that Hinds “has taken a direct interest in bringing the protests to an end and restoring a calm teaching environment for all pupils and staff as quickly as possible”.
“Schools should be a place of safety and calm, and everyone in the community has a responsibility to maintain that atmosphere,” he said.
“Protests do nothing to help schools achieve their public duty or create the conditions children need to learn.”
Hinds has previously spoken out in defence of the changes to RSE. In March, he told this newspaper that it was right to consult with parents about the new curriculum but he backed headteachers.
“I’ve always been clear that I support headteachers to make decisions and we believe in school autonomy, that school leaders are best-placed to make decisions,” he said.
However, responses to the government’s consultation on the reforms showed widespread opposition to the plans. Sixty-four per cent of respondents said the proposed content for RSE at secondary level were not age-appropriate, while 58 per cent raised the same concern about relationships education at primary schools.
A “large proportion” of respondents also disagreed with the position on teaching about LGBT issues, which prompted ministers to clarify that it will be up to schools when they introduce LGBT education into the curriculum.