I have spent a portion of this lazy Sunday teaching my two children Relationship, Sex Education (RSE). Not exactly my favourite way to spend family time but right now it is important. We have come to the realisation that times are changing and our children are being introduced to RSE a lot younger than we would like. Therefore it is time to prepare to gain knowledge and become empowered in this subject.
This is a topic that is very much on our minds at the moment, with recent government changes making the relationship aspect statutory (compulsory) for even our very young primary school children.
Although the relationship aspect in the curriculum is compulsory, the science part is not. This means that we are still able to opt out our children from science lessons that teach sex education. However, after discussions with the head teacher at my children’s school, it was obvious that what resources were used in science would also be used in the relationship aspect of the curriculum (so after much consideration I decided there was no point in taking my children out of science, when they would find the same topic in RSE).
For me, personally, my biggest objection to RSE is that I should be the primary educator for my children when it comes to sex and relationship education. As their mother, it should be me that introduces such important ideas. However, with aspects of this curriculum now compulsory, I realised that I had to change my tact. So I urge everyone to think carefully about this aspect of the curriculum. This is an account of my experience of how I empowered myself and took control.
I have a son in year one (six years old) and a daughter in year 3 (seven years old). Normally, I would not have proactively bought up the subject of relationship and sex with my young children. They see a range of relationships all around them in different families as well as what they see with friends and the media, they are subliminally learning all the time. My primary-aged school children remember well when I was pregnant with my youngest and we never hid the miraculous body of a woman or development of bodies from babies to adulthood. But all this was not explicitly taught. I made the decision to teach my children everything that they would be doing in school for RSE. Why? Why didn’t I just leave it with the school to deal with?
Society has changed so much since I was a child and with how things are changing in education, it is absolutely crucial that my children know that I am the first person who they should be comfortable with in regards to asking questions about relationships and sex. We must move away from the idea that we do not talk about these things with our children. They are being bombarded from all directions and my children need to know that I am their rock. So I am being very open with my young children now, which will In Shaa Allah (God willing) make my life easier when they are in secondary school. I am also able to teach the RSE curriculum with our way of life in mind, whether that be with Islam or any other religion or world view.
My children know to be kind and courteous to all people from all walks of life; but this is taught by their mother in the security of their home with no judgement for any questions that may arise. My parenting will allow natural questions rattling around in my children’s mind to be answered in a safe, non-judgmental, loving way without worrying about what classmates are thinking or saying.
The first thing we need to do to empower ourselves is read the government guidelines on RSE. The Department for Education (DfE) has published key guidance called ‘Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education: Statutory guidance for governing bodies, proprietors, head teachers, principles, senior leadership teams, teachers’, which you can find below:
The guidance states clearly that the religious background of ALL students must be taken into account when planning teaching, so that topics are taught sensitively and appropriately handled. I know many schools have not done this. And this is where we must take action.
Firstly, the schools need to know that they cannot just teach our children in a generic manner without consideration of their background.
Secondly, because the curriculum has changed the school should have consulted with parents informing them of changes and how they would teach the subject.
For example, my children’s school held a 30 minute webinar for each year group on what the changes were with an opportunity to ask questions (for which I was very grateful for). I attended the Year 1-2 and Year 3-4 webinar. I was shocked at how I was the only Muslim parent at both webinars.
We are concerned about this subject, so when we are offered information we must make the effort to attend and read. How will we be empowered if we do not know? If your school has not consulted the parents then that is a mistake that they have made and you can complain firstly to the governors of the school (who should be fully aware of this change in curriculum, some schools may have a dedicated RSE Link Governor). If you do not get any forthcoming information, then complain to Ofsted as the school is not following government guidelines. The school should also have a recently updated RSE policy in place that should be available to all parents on the school website.
Next, as parents we have every right to ask for all resources that will be used to teach our children this aspect of the curriculum. Here is an email you can send to your school;
“I request that the full set of resources for [insert year group of your child] is sent to me so that I am fully aware of what my child/children are being taught and so that I can lead in this aspect of my child’s education with [insert school name] help. It is very important to me that I am the primary educator for my children when it comes to sex and relationship education and I would very much appreciate your assistance in this. With this in mind, please could you also let me know when the children will be having these lessons so that I can also be having conversations at home.”
I then used the resources sent by the school and taught my children everything that would be taught at school this term. You may feel that you are bombarded with information and resources, making you think and feel that you can’t teach your children. YOU CAN! This is your primary role as a mother and you do it every single day anyway. I spent 20 minutes with each child individually. There are some newly created, high quality schemes of work now on the market for RSE that are age-appropriate and follow a sequence of learning.
My children’s school has been proactive and has this in place. You need to ask your school what scheme of work they are following. A good scheme of work protects teachers, children and parents by ensuring a strict sequence of lessons is taught with resources. This becomes an invaluable tool for the teacher and is something that you can use to ensure there is the same information provided at both school and home.
The guidance states the religious background of all students must be considered. But how will the school do this? A lot of schools are not actively doing this. So we must be proactive. In the email to the head teacher you can also state; “I would like you to inform [insert name of teacher] of my children’s religious background, which is Islam, so that they are aware and can be sensitive with teaching RSE from both the PSHE and Science perspective.”
By doing this, you are telling the school that you know what your rights are as a parent and how the school should be teaching in a sensitive, inclusive manner.
Things to do in regards to getting to grips with RSE in your child’s school:
- Empower yourself by attending webinars/ meetings and reading government guidelines.
- Email the head teacher and ask for the full set of resources and what the objectives of lessons are and when they will be taught (so you can teach them first before the school does).
- Email and let the school know what the religious background of your children are. Whether they use this or not is not the point – they will automatically be more careful and thoughtful in how things are said.
- Speak with your children! I know we didn’t want to introduce this topic to our young children but for those of us that cannot home-school we have to change our tact and empower ourselves and our children. Be open now. It will be easier as the children get older. We cannot afford to be complacent. This is our job to do first with the school assisting. You are a leader of your children. You are their first point of contact for everything in life, including teaching them RSE.
Tanya Quddus is a primary school and local council Governor. Tanya is a qualified secondary school English teacher who is currently a GCSE English examiner. Tanya graduated from Queen Mary, University of London with BA English and MA Metropolis & Empire and completed her PGCE in English from Roehampton University. She lives in Surrey with her three children and husband. Tanya loves reading, writing, eating out and socialising (when her children allow!) with family and friends.
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