The Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP as part of his work on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Faith and Society arranged a roundtable discussion on Religion and Sex Education Legislation on Monday 13th May 2019. Attendees included groups from multiple faiths, Ofsted and DfE. Due to the recent guidance PaJeS issued for schools, we were also invited to contribute our thoughts.
The general view across all faith groups was that the DfE has given consideration to the concerns of the faith communities and has in fact done a very good job in drafting guidance nevertheless concerns were voiced. During the course of the meeting Rabbi David Meyer from PaJeS raised 3 concerns:
1. The concern that whilst faith schools can envision pathways for compliance and will implement this, how will Ofsted be assessing this particularly in regard to the new Inspection Framework coming in to force this September?
2. Out of approximately 4,000 lessons delivered across the school, the need for schools to raise LGBT in 1 otherwise they face downgrading to Requires Improvement is disproportionate. There is no equivalent measure in any other subject or subject
3. Although there is a parental right to withdrawal for sex education, the lack of this option for relationships education has potential to cause tensions between the school and parent body.
In addition to those points, concerns were raised about the disproportionate responsibility placed on Headteachers especially in the consideration of what is age appropriate. This is on top of the lack of support from all stakeholders especially where Ofsted is likely to hold the Headteacher to account for what is or is not being delivered in the school. This will often place the Headteacher in an impossible position given the disparate views of parents and governors in such a contentious area. At a time of increasing concerns about the wellbeing of Headteachers across the country this is a significant area of concern.
We were encouraged by Ofsted's response in certain areas especially with the reassurance that the new framework will reflect the most recent guidelines from the department. However we will wait to see how this works in practice and look to support the schools through the implementation of this.