(Note: This article was written some years ago. I believe the issues raised are still pertinent. However, if there are any particulars that have changed and do not accurately reflect the state of SRE now, please let me know in the comments and I will update the article.)
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to my son’s school with other parents to discuss sex and relationship education (SRE). The school was about to begin teaching SRE to my son’s year group which is year 3; the children in that year are 8.
Some 20 -30 parents had turned up which – given what I know about the apathy of parents in many other schools – is quite good. Also, the fact that our head teacher had invited parents to discuss with them demonstrated good practice. This is not the case with many other schools where the head teacher is well aware that he/she can get away with not consulting parents because of their lack of interest or engagement regarding this and many other issues.
In the meeting we were told how SRE would be taught to our 8 year olds and were shown the resources that would be used. In view of what I was told in that meeting by what seems to be a ‘good practice’ school and what I know about this issue, below are some of my thoughts which are pertinent to everyone.
- In my view, the issue was played down in that meeting. Had it not been for some alert parents, most parents would have gone away thanking the head teacher for her open approach and assuring her that they were happy with what was happening at the school. But there were a number of issues that are of concern.
- Our head teacher told us SRE was a legal requirement. Some colleagues and I had been in an SRE meeting with the head of children’s services and some local councillors. We were clearly informed that the ball was entirely in the courts of the head teachers; that there was no legal requirement to teach SRE and that the head teachers called all the shots. The legal requirement was simply for the school to have a policy which can simply state that the school’s policy is to not teach SRE. In accordance with this, I am aware of at least two local schools which have exercised this right and have simply scrapped SRE. If it is a legal requirement, how have they done that? When I pointed this out to our head, she said, ‘it’s part of the science curriculum’. This is also not entirely honest, as the whole of SRE is not part of the science curriculum but some anatomy elements are and later on reproduction issues are part of it. Other parts of SRE have nothing to do with science. I had been warned by people campaigning against SRE that head teachers use this as a trick. I hadn’t taken that all too seriously; now here I was seeing it at work and watching how easily parents just accepted that answer. When a head teacher says this, it begs the question ‘how much of it is part of the science curriculum?’ It is simply a ‘get out of jail card’ for heads and parents should be wary of it.
- We were given the opportunity to check the resources. The resources that taught the relationship component had a disproportionate focus on same-sex parents with pictures on the front covers. Our head teacher acknowledged that 95% of our school children were Muslim, who have absolutely no need to contend with issues like same sex parents at the age of 8. A typical question that gets thrown back by the teachers is ‘well they see this stuff on TV’. The answer is, ‘they do not see TV as their teacher; TV is exposure and not learning. While this is still harmful, the two are very different’.
- Anatomy is taught graphically. So a penis is introduced with a picture of a penis and so on. In my view that is bordering on stupidity and desensitises children’s natural aversion to such images. Why do they need to see the picture when they have the organ on their bodies? It’s ridiculous!
- Our SRE teacher seemed quite sensitive to our cultural and religious reservations. But this will not be the case in every school. There are head teachers and SRE teachers of an extreme liberal mind-set who are on a mission to expose children to this stuff. The overall SRE curriculum and resources expose children to graphical depictions and even promotion of intercourse, masturbation, orgasms and the like. All of which are quite absurd when you consider that this will be taught to primary school children by people who do not understand that the Muslim community has its own ways of dealing with these issues.
- When a few parents objected, our head teacher simply said, ‘you have the right to take your child out’. One parents’ response to this was an eye opener. A sister in the back row said that taking her child out was unacceptable as the child would feel left out and would find out the information from other children, which would be far worse, as children have their own ways. She was spot on. Don’t accept this answer whatever you do.
- The most dangerous thing in all of this is the apathy of our parents. Most parents are clueless! Those who know a thing or two cannot express themselves and so are pacified. Then a vast majority overall are just uninterested and downright lazy. Another local school where my nephews, nieces and other relatives attend, the head teacher only wrote to parents when campaigners began lobbying them outside. Until then she was going ahead with teaching this stuff to the children the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslim. Some head teachers and even teachers who work in Muslim populated areas like Tower Hamlets would struggle to get past the interview process in middle England due to the composition of school governing bodies. If they did get the jobs, the parents and governors would ensure that this stuff didn’t get anywhere near their children.
- As parents, we have to become more active. This is our children’s education. I once thought things would change with second generation parents like me. But I have discovered that we are worse than our elders because of our sheer laziness. Our parents did what they could with their limitations. What excuses do we have? How is it that in Tower Hamlets only two schools have chosen to not teach SRE? Where are all these parents who are in their twenties and thirties and are educated and articulate? The number of times I hear answers like ‘it’s too much hassle’, or ‘I don’t have the time’, is quite disgraceful.
- We all need to wake up! We need to become parent governors and active parents. Remember that head teachers are answerable to governing bodies and governors are answerable to parents. So are local councillors. When I went to meet the head of children’s services about SRE, the meeting materialised because some local councillors had faced difficult questions and pressure from parents whose children went to the same school as their own. Activism works; it’s time we realised that. If we don’t, our children will drag us to hell on the day of judgement, we can be sure of that.
For more up to date information on SRE and the campaign against inappropriate SRE, visit http://www.sreislamic.org/.