Parents of strictly Orthodox Jewish children in the UK say schools are pressing them to withdraw their children from Relationship and Sex Education classes.
Two parents, speaking anonymously, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that two schools – Yesodeh Hatorah Senior Girls’ School and Lubavitch Senior Girls’ School – had urged them to write asking to take their children out of RSE lessons.
“Our children need sex education more than any other child in the country because our community is so insular,” said one parent. “There is no other way in which a child in this community could learn about healthy sex and relationships because the internet and all forms of national media are banned.”
Mandatory RSE lessons, which aim to explain not only the basics of reproduction but also different types of sexuality, gender and relationships, come into effect in schools next year. However, following pressure from faith group lobbyists, the Government recently agreed to a parental opt-out until children reach a certain age.
One telephone recording, obtained by the BBC programmes, shows someone from one of the schools telling a parent that “we need parents to formally say ‘I do not want you to teach my child about single-gender relationships or sex education in the school,’ unless you do, as a parent, want that”.
Parents said they sent the letter because they were “too scared” not to, since being seen to go against an Orthodox school on this matter would be seen as “not Jewish”.
Yesodeh Hatorah, which was found to have redacted helpline numbers during an Ofsted inspection last year, said most parents would expect sex and relationship education to be done “at home”. It described accusations of coercion as “entirely false,” arguing that the school simply gave parents information on the opt-out.
Meanwhile, a mother at Lubavitch said staff wrote to parents asking them to help “prevent” RSE lessons, telling the programme that she was “disgusted”. The school said any complaint lodged through the formal procedures would be dealt with.
In a statement to Jewish News, Lubavitch headteacher Helen Freeman said the school had “worked hard to ensure that parents are fully informed about the upcoming legislative changes pertaining to RSE”.
She added: “Our communication with parents was designed to enable parental choice. Our intention was to inform parents of their legal right to opt their children out of sex education, if they so choose.”
Meanwhile Yesodeh Hatorah Principal Rabbi Avroham Pinter hit out at both the BBC for pursuing a “hate campaign” and the anonymous parents, calling their complaints “vexatious”.
He said most parents of children at his school “do not expect their children to be given sex education in a school classroom,” adding: “It is therefore very important that we let parents know that their child will be given sex education at school – unless they opt out.”
At the time of publication the umbrella group Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS), a division of the Jewish Leadership Council, had not responded to this newspaper’s enquiries.