Orthodox groups welcome opt-out for parents on sex education
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Orthodox groups welcome opt-out for parents on sex education

Newly-published guidance reveals parents will have a say on whether their child receives Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) as Government looks to shake up the education system

Orthodox Jewish educators won a major victory this week after the Government’s proposed new guidance on sex-education in schools included an opt-out for parents.

The Government has proposed that children are taught relationships education at primary school, relationships and sex education at secondary school, and health education at all state-funded schools.

But a number of Jewish groups say parents should decide whether to teach their children Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and have welcomed the “flexibility” of a parental waiver, which is included in the newly-published draft statutory guidance.

“Parents have the right to request their child be withdrawn from some or all of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE,” the document states, adding: “Schools are free to determine how to deliver the content.”

Some strictly Orthodox schools have fallen foul of current guidance on educating children about homosexuality, but the Equality Act 2010 means that discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation is illegal and Ofsted inspectors have repeatedly downgraded schools for not teaching pupils about it.

However, this week’s draft guidance, which is due to come into effect next year, states that schools “may teach the distinctive faith perspective on relationships, and balanced debate may take place about issues that are seen as contentious”.

It adds that the school “may wish to reflect on faith teachings about certain topics, as well as how their faith institutions may support people in matters of relationships and sex”.

However, it also states that “in all schools, teaching should reflect the law, including the Equality Act 2010, as it applies to relationships, so that young people clearly understand what the law allows and does not allow, and the wider legal implications of decisions they may make”.

Board of Deputies’ vice president Edwin Shuker said different groups within the Jewish community hold a range of views about relationships and sex education.

“It is a positive step that the new proposed legislation will retain a measure of flexibility that will allow many different Jewish schools to act according to their ethos, although we note that the new guidance will continue to pose challenges for strictly Orthodox secondary schools.”

He added: “We welcome the focus on child safety and safeguarding for all protected characteristics under the Equalities Act 2010.

“As the new legislation comes into effect in 2020, we will continue to monitor how this affects schools in the community and how they are inspected.”

Shimon Cohen of the Torah Education Committee, a coalition of Orthodox schools that has led the lobbying effort, said: “We are encouraged by the Government’s commitment that these matters will not have to be addressed at primary level and that at secondary level, a right to withdraw remains, with headteachers empowered to discern how these issues are addressed.”

He added that recognising parents as their children’s primary teachers was “crucial” as this “will help to ensure their wishes are respected,” but cautioned that the national inspectorate’s interpretation of the guidance remains a worry.

“We remain wary that Ofsted will maintain the responsibility to police the implementation of the guidelines and we will remain alert to their active role in promoting and advancing lifestyles that go against traditional Torah teachings,” he said. “Much remains to be done.”

Levi Shapiro of the Stamford Hill-based Jewish Community Council, which has also lobbied ministers on the proposed new guidance, welcomed this week’s announcement, saying: “It is important to recognise that our Torah values must be respected and protected.

“The option for parents to withdraw from RSE subjects demonstrates again the fact that the Government is listening to our concerns.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Judaism has pledged its full backing for the new Government initiative.

Liberal Judaism’s senior rabbi, Rabbi Danny Rich, said: “While responsibility for relationships and sex education remains primarily with parents, research shows this is often ‘hit and miss’.

“The education system needs to prepare young people for the complexities of modern living.”

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi said: “The Chief Rabbi has long argued that there need not be any contradiction between preparing our children for life in Modern Britain and ensuring that they are totally immersed in Torah values throughout their education.

“The Government have made clear that these RSE regulations are adaptable according to the age and religious background of the pupils.

“This is an approach which provides an appropriate accommodation for all of our schools and which is welcome.”

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