With children going back to school this week, parents are worried not only about how prepared schools are to receive children following a prolonged absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of the statutory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) classes.
We have compiled a set of questions frequently asked by parents. We hope these will both inform and support parents to take the appropriate actions to ensure that the harms of these subjects to our children are minimised.
Key to abbreviations
RHE – Relationships and Health Education (primary school)
RHSE – Relationships, Health, and Sex Education (secondary school)
Will schools be teaching sex education to my 5-year-old child?
Sex education will not be made statutory in primary schools from September 2020.
A new subject – Relationships and Health Education (RHE) – will become a statutory subject in all primary schools.
In secondary schools, Relationships, Health, and Sex Education (RHSE) will be statutory.
Can I still withdraw my child from these lessons?
If a primary school teaches sex education, you can withdraw your child. You have a legal right to withdraw.
You cannot withdraw your child from RHE.
If your child attends a secondary school, you can make a request to the headteacher to withdraw your child from the Sex Education element of RHSE but not the Relationships or Health Education elements. The headteacher has the ultimate right to decide to approve or reject your request to withdraw from the Sex Education element of RHSE.
The Government has provided assurances that, in the majority of cases, a headteacher will approve all requests, but the Government has failed to define the instances in which a request can be rejected. There is nothing set in the guidance about appealing decisions. This is all left to the school’s governing board/headteacher to decide.
How do I know what they will teach my child?
The curriculum outcomes are set out at the end of the following document
It is important that parents are aware of the learning outcomes at a primary level. A school could potentially include non-statutory sex education elements into RHE. This can only be challenged if parents are aware of the learning outcomes.
The main criticism with regards to the organisation of RHSE in secondary schools is that there is no clear demarcation between the Relationships and the Sex Education elements. A school may mark a learning outcome that clearly falls under Sex Education as a Relationships Education outcome. Again, it is important that during the consultation process, parents ensure that their schools distinguish the two areas of teaching as separate, and that this is reflected in the policy, in order to ensure transparency.
How do I stop the school from using ‘inappropriate resources’?
There is no objective measure of ‘inappropriate resources’. A school will always deny they are using ‘inappropriate resources’.
The statutory guidance does make it clear that in teaching these subjects, the appropriateness of the resources chosen is intrinsically linked to two factors:
- The age of the child: resources should be in line with the age of the child
- Religious background: resources must take into account faith sensibilities.
“Schools must also ensure that their teaching and materials are appropriate having regard to the age and religious backgrounds of their pupils.”
What can we change in schools if the Government has already set the curriculum?
Although RHE and RHSE have been made statutory, schools have been given a huge amount of flexibility over two areas of implementation:
How: Which resources to use and not to use.
When: Which year groups to cover the learning outcomes.
How many hours a day are schools required to teach RHE/RHSE?
The Government has not set the number of hours that a school must teach these subjects. As long as the learning outcomes for RHE/RHSE are covered by the time children leave primary/secondary school, the school has fulfilled its legal duty to teach these subjects. This could mean that they occupy two hours or five days a year, depending on the school.
Are schools required to consult parents?
All primary schools must have an RHE policy. Parents must be consulted on its contents before it is finalised.
All secondary schools must have an RHSE policy. Parents must be consulted on its contents before it is finalised.
“All schools must have in place a written policy for Relationships Education and RSE. Schools must consult parents in developing and reviewing their policy. Schools should ensure that the policy meets the needs of pupils and parents and reflects the community they serve.”
What else does the guidance say?
This visual provides a summary
My child’s primary school has not consulted me, but they plan to teach RHE from the autumn term (September 2020). What can I do?
The Government has clarified that as a result of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools can delay the implementation of RHE/RHSE beyond 1st September 2020. Although RHE/RHSE will be statutory from 1st September 2020, schools can delay their implementation until the summer term (April 2021).
Letter from Schools Minister
Click here to read the letter
Letter from the Department for Education
Click here to read the letter
What is the point in doing anything if schools will teach whatever they want to teach?
As Muslims, we recognise that actions performed for the sake of Allāh, no matter how overtly disconnected to notions of ‘spirituality’, are rewarded as long as our intention is to please and obey Allāh. Any permissible action that we do to safeguard and protect our children and the children of others is rewarded by Allāh.
If all we achieve is the toning down of a small number of materials that could expose children to sexualised behaviours, then we have fulfilled an extremely praiseworthy act that Allāh will reward. Even if we are unable to achieve tangible results, actions seeking to target the result but still do not achieve the results will be rewarded by Allāh.
We have to accompany such actions with a positive mindset, irrespective of the results, otherwise we will sabotage their potential effectiveness.
The most important dimension of activist work is to make copious du’ā to Allāh for success – success of the immediate actions we do as well as success in raising our children as strong Muslims who prioritise the worship and obedience of Allāh.
The mere act of working to safeguard our children’s values ensures that we are never complacent to the dangers to their imān that are ever-present in their lives.
Will schools be teaching my child how to be ‘gay’ and confuse them about their ‘gender identity’?
There are many examples of anecdotal evidence suggesting that some schools are involved in the ideological imposition of these values in classrooms. This pre-dates statutory RHE.
Although there is no statutory requirement to cover LGBT relationships, there are strong recommendations amidst contradictory and confusing guidance from the Government. We do need to remind schools that their role is not to impose different value perspectives. If they are unwilling to entertain the prospect of not talking about same-sex relationships or even relationships outside of marriage, they must not speak about them beyond their existence as a factual reality. They must not state that these relationships are good or bad, as that would necessitate that schools enter the realm of values imposition. Schools can and will state the legal acceptance of different relationships but must not promote any one relationship.
Will schools be teaching my child sexually liberal ideas about relationships?
We live in a secular liberal society where values are constantly changing in response to lobby and interest groups demanding more freedom. Changes are inevitable. We cannot protect our children from every manifestation of negative values. However, what we can do is equip them with the conceptual tools to differentiate between what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour for a Muslim who submits himself/herself to Allāh. Our children will not only come across these values in our schools, they will also perceive them throughout society, from TV programmes to mass advertising on the billboards that line our streets to what they see on social media. We have to take proactive measures to model the values we want them to live by and then reinforce them through the conversations we have with them.
Above everything else, we have to take responsibility to raise our children. Whilst others may help us in furthering this blessed goal, the buck stops with us. Allāh will not ask the madrassa teacher why they did not raise our children.
“O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is men and stones.”
How do we protect our children from the wider societal encroachment on our values?
We must always push back against this encroachment no matter how inevitable the changes are, as they act as a reminder that we have divinely inspired values that we live by and want to pass on to our children. The more we accept these changes, the more we will normalise these values in our children.
My child goes to an independent Muslim school. Will they have to teach these subjects?
All schools have to implement statutory RHE and RHSE. These changes also apply to independent schools, which includes fee-paying Muslim schools. The only difference is that schools with a religious character can teach these subjects in line with their faith values.
Why were these subjects made statutory?
After decades of lobbying various governments, a deal was made between pro-life MPs with MPs demanding statutory SRE, who felt that making Relationships Education statutory in primary schools would be a compromise that would ensure that sex education was not imposed on primary schools. This decision was opposed by only a minority and was lauded by most as a great victory. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 was quickly passed as law. I remember attending a parliamentary gathering in January 2018 where the MPs and groups that supported this strategy were present. There were only a handful of voices opposing this compromise position, because it was clear that once the genie was out of the bottle, it would be difficult to control. Ironically, those who supported it then are now opposing it today.
Are there any resources to support me as a parent with my engagement with my child’s school?
Parent’s Booklet: TBC
If you have any questions not dealt with in these FAQs, please post them in the comments and we will add them in shā Allāh.
 Page 24, Statutory Guidance
 Page 11, Statutory Guidance
 Al-Qur’ān, 66:6
Yusuf Patel is the founder of SREIslamic, which provides advice, support and training to parents concerned with how Sex and Relationship Education (SRE/RHE/RSHE) is taught in schools, particularly at the primary level. SREIslamic has conducted hundreds of seminars across the country since it was founded in 2008 in order to inform Muslim parents of their legal rights in the area of SRE (RHE/RSHE) as well as running workshops covering the responsibility of Muslim parents to impart age appropriate sex education in line with their values. Yusuf works for a mental health charity.