Posted by a concerned Mother
It was magnificent, it was history in the making on Thursday 16th January 2020, a long-awaited meeting organised by Sufia Alam, Manager of the Maryam Centre. Kate Smith, Head of Healthy Lives, who has overall responsibility of making the Local Authority (LA) model; Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum for Tower Hamlets was welcomed with open arms of a phenomenal 300+ Muslim mothers and guardians at the heart of East London; the Maryam Centre. Kate Smith was accompanied by Lisa Grant, a colleague.
There had been no public engagement with parents or guardians up to this point by the Local Authority. The meeting was unprecedented, and the conduct was on par. The atmosphere was buzzing and filled with positive conversation between mothers and guardians. Due to the enormity of attendees, many were reported to have been sent away as the hall did not have the capacity to hold any more, and for health and safety reasons. This was a massive turnout!
Kate Smith was delightfully surprised and did not expect to see that many stakeholders under one roof. She even added at one point ‘I’m lost for words’ and that she hopes ‘this will be the beginning of many more’. Mothers came prepared with notebooks, and laptops to record for those who could not be present, and all stood in unity. Many questions and issues were raised in an orderly and professional manner. This clearly highlighted stakeholders taking responsibility and owning their right as the primary educators of their children. The message was clear that consultations between Kate Smith, the schools and parents is vital to the curriculum at large.
The government will enforce RE1 / RSE2 from September 2020. Kate Smith confirmed she had drawn up a draft policy but added that nothing had been finalised for the borough of Tower Hamlets, and that the DFE are sending out further guidelines. Before this, schools across the borough had been encouraged to carry out a trial run, known as the Early Adopters Programme. Some schools have chosen to implement this, others are waiting on the Local Authority to provide guidance so they can plan their own consultation with the families. Parents, or stakeholders in this case, have been informing themselves and others around them, and many are actively engaging with their schools to transition forward as there are many worries and concerns with the deliverance of this policy.
The PSHE topics are primarily to ensure schools are keeping children safe and equipping them effectively for life. Kate Smith made some fair points regarding the importance of teaching children about First Aid, drug abuse, internet safety, physical health and so forth. Mothers cheered in agreement to this as they are universal topics that must be taught and understood to ensure the safety of the children.
However, some of the topics that fall under the RE/RSE is causing a huge concern across the borough. Kate Smith confirmed and has put forward the following in the draft, whilst trying to be culturally and religiously sensitive. But who is the best judge other than the different communities who represent the schools?
- Teach the main (sexual) body parts – this is understood to be for safeguarding and health issues, from key stage 1
- Introduce mental, physical wellness and internet safety.
- Types of families
With knowledge that children mature at different ages, how will this be age appropriate? What may be right for one child when exposed to culturally sensitive topics may not be right for another? Food for thought: A mother asked about the adverse effects after teaching such elements at an early age, that some children start to experiment on their siblings, what happens then?
Crucial attention is required for age appropriateness to teach certain topics. One mother shared from her research of Jean Piaget’s3 famous theory of The 4 Stages of Cognitive Development4; Piaget says, ‘a child who goes through each stage of development becomes successful’. He says, ‘one should be careful not to teach and expose it to anything that will tamper with it’.
Schools are all for academic development, so where is the evidence, research and statistics proving that sex education is empowering children and keeping them safe? The reality is much evidence is readily available supporting sexualisation and sexual abuse of children when exposed to such materials and information at a young age. The Tavistock debacle was raised by another mother, how does one deal with that? Mental issues are on the rise, how are GP’s and the NHS expected to support and deal with such incidences? Already a lack of resources within our core service providers and we want to add more stress and pressure?
Kate Smith assured the parents she will take back the concerns (not misconceptions) raised to her steering group. They will further discuss and help shape and form the SRE policy in the interest of the communities concerned. Watch this space!
Kate spoke about bullying on the rise and illustrated with one example of a child saying to another ‘your soo gay’. A mother responded, ‘What about islamophobia?’, there was silence, a sudden noise of support from the crowd was heard after seconds of silence. Faith is a protected characteristic and Tower Hamlets has 38%5 (2011 Census), one of the largest faiths. Freedom of religion and belief is a protected characteristic, so there essentially needs to be some understanding.
If bullying is on the rise, we are in support of working with schools and children to eliminate bullying. There is no evidence to state that children have been bullied from coming out of a household of different types of families, no diagrams or models were presented.
Mothers attended with an open mind, setting an example for their children, and to give courage to those who could not attend. Questions and issues raised identified the worries and concerns of the community at large and moved away from the stigma that assumes parents do not talk to their children about the birds and the bees. Every topic has its time and place and a child needs to be ready to learn and understand, a judgement call parents should continue to be able to make.
Kate Smith made clear the curriculum, set by the Department of Education, that schools are free to develop a programme of how to deliver the curriculum and decide together which materials to use. She also made clear governing bodies and parents to work together in brief. This was a pressing worry, so parents were pleased to hear through engagement with the schools, the stakeholders can influence the delivery of the materials. Parents were happy and agreed that children are to be educated on matters that will make a positive difference to society but are adamant that value judgements should not be placed on any aspect of the changes to the curriculum, as learning points of rights for all communities should be emphasized.
Kate Smith will make clear in the policy of the non-statutory topics so primary school parents have the option to opt out, given that it is every parents right to educate and safeguard their children as appropriate to their needs. Very little was spoken about secondary elements. Parent engagement workshops should be facilitated to choose materials and resources across all schools, primary and secondary. A clear line needs to be drawn between promoting and teaching of gender fluidity and the age appropriateness considered. Parents need to be able to trust the schools in order to shape the education system for future generations. After all what are schools without their children!
Kate Smith is reportedly booked for further meetings with the different communities concerned. She was recently welcomed by the Somali community, mothers and fathers, but a margin and a tick box exercise it will remain until she meets and takes the viewpoints that represents the community at best. Parents and guardians alike are hoping Kate Smith has the interest of the community close to the policy.
Views and opinions posted on the Blog are that of the author and are not necessarily the views and opinions of THPA