During the NUT’s annual conference in Cardiff, delegates passed a motion calling on members ‘to campaign to ensure a comprehensive age-appropriate content including promotion of LGBT+ matters from nursery throughout all phases of state education.’
They urged the Government to make the proposed statutory sex and relationship education (SRE) ‘inclusive’, arguing that an exclusion of LGBT+ matters could have a ‘significant negative impact upon the health and well-being of students’ who identify with this group.
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said, ‘The goal must be high quality and age-appropriate sex and relationships education across all key stages, which is fit for the complexity of young peoples’ lives today. Implementation must ensure that, in primary, the SRE curriculum covers the whole range of issues, not just relationships.
‘It is high time that PSHE and SRE – including LGBT+ education – is recognised as an essential part of the school curriculum. It is important for a modern forward-thinking society to understand and embrace differences within our communities.
‘The alternative is many pupils being isolated, bullied or misinformed and, for many, there is an impact on health and wellbeing that can last well beyond school years,’ Mr Courtney warned.
The call for LGBT+ inclusive SRE for children from nursery has prompted outrage from religious groups and conservative campaigners.
Andrea Williams, Christian Concern's chief executive, a lobby group that wants ‘to see the United Kingdom return to the Christian faith’, warned that teaching children from nursery about LGBT issues would create unnecessary confusion for young children, adding that neither hate crime nor sexuality was ‘an issue for toddlers’.
But Justin Clark, counsellor and psychotherapist at Therapy Nottingham, said, ‘I find the idea that this education could be damaging very bizarre. This issue is often incorrectly conflated with the sexualisation of children and “promoting” homosexuality, which is of course not what is being discussed. Whilst there are many adults who will undoubtedly not like the proposed SRE content, or even agree with it, knowing that there's more than one way to be can only be a positive thing for children.
‘Children are aware of a very wide variety of different identity and relationships types through social media, television (including children's television) and popular culture, and of course the real world around them. I don't believe that age appropriate SRE including LGBT+ matters is at all confusing in itself, and fully support the proposal. However, I can see that it might be confusing if parents and significant adults in a child's world are giving strongly contradictory messages. Whilst this isn't a good reason to not educate children appropriately, it would seem relevant and important to pay attention to this possibility when planning SRE delivery.’
Dr Polly Haste, training lead at the Sex Education Forum, said, 'It is vital that sex and relationships education is fully inclusive and meets the needs of all children and young people. An LGBT+ approach supports wider efforts to ensure that all children, including in early years, feel that their families and their feelings are valued and respected.
'In early years, it is important that learning about families, nurturing and who cares for us, reflects the diversity of family forms in our communities. It is just as important to reflect same-sex parents or trans parents in our resources, approaches and celebrations, as it is single parents, foster carers and other family forms.'
NUT’s vice president, Kiri Tunks, described the right of faith schools and parents to opt out of compulsory SRE as a ‘dangerous loophole’ which would ‘leave many young people ignorant and vulnerable’.
Mr Courtney was equally critical of parents’ continued right to prevent their children from participating in SRE classes in the future.
‘Schools require the support, resources and authority needed to ensure SRE reaches all young people, irrespective of their religious background. Engaging parents with the SRE content and explaining its purpose is the best way to ensure a successful partnership between schools and parents,’ Mr Courtney said.
Plans for Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in schools
Education Secretary Justine Greening announced in March that all primary school pupils in England will have guaranteed access to relationship education.
Under current proposals, pupils at secondary schools will be guaranteed relationship and sex education, while parents will continue to have the right to withdraw their children from these lessons.
Currently, only pupils attending local-authority run secondary schools - which represent around a third of secondary schools - are guaranteed to be offered sex and relationships education, while Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) is only mandatory at independent schools. Neither are currently required to be taught in academies.
Ms Greening has called the statutory guidance for Sex and Relationship Education, which was introduced in 2000, ‘increasingly outdated’, and said it failed to address risks to children such as cyber bullying, ‘sexting’ and staying safe online.
All primary and secondary schools will have the flexibility in how to deliver these subjects, so they can tailor lessons that are sensitive to the needs of their local community.
Regulations and statutory guidance will be subject to a full public consultation.
Schools will be required to teach this content from September 2019.
Parliament has already approved a tabled amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill on these issues that is now awaiting Royal Assent.
While many campaigners have reacted positively to the DfE proposals, some expressed concerns about the Government’s plans to limit SRE lessons in primary school to relationship education without including sex education.
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, voiced similar concerns. ‘The Government must make crystal clear that children of all ages are taught to name their body parts and understand abusive behaviour so they can speak up if they need to. Primary schools must also be required to teach puberty before children experience it.
‘Primary legislation is an important first step. After that there will be much to do supporting teaching staff with the training and guidance they need and helping schools to involve parents so that children and young people finally get the education they need.’