The East London Mosque has written to the head teachers of schools in Tower Hamlets, in support of parents who are concerned about Relationships and Sex Education (RSE).

6 March 2020

Dear Head Teacher

RSE: Respecting the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils and parents

In the light of a recent briefing given to schools, we are writing an open letter to head teachers to express the concerns of many in the community we serve.

The Department for Education’s guidelines on ‘Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education’ (RSE) begin by clearly stating a guiding principle, that “all of the compulsory subject content must be age appropriate and developmentally appropriate. It must be taught sensitively and inclusively, with respect to the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils and parents while always with the aim of providing pupils with the knowledge they need of the law.” We would expect this to underpin RSE in all schools.

The DfE’s guidance goes further, stating explicitly that “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.” This should include all matters where discretion may be exercised, including the use of materials, the age at which issues are taught, and the approach adopted. Schools need to go beyond general statements of reassurance, and show specifically how they are taking account of the faith backgrounds of pupils and their parents’ concerns; this is what the law is asking of them.

The East London Mosque has facilitated dialogue between parents in Tower Hamlets and other stakeholders, in line with the DfE’s guidance that “A good understanding of pupils’ faith backgrounds and positive relationships between the school and local faith communities help to create a constructive context for the teaching of these subjects.” Many parents have voiced concerns that schools intend to go beyond statutory requirements, introducing content when pupils are too young, and using materials without regard to the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils. Parents have told us that they are not being taken seriously, that they feel the consultation was only a ‘tick-box exercise’, and that decision makers have not been presented with the full extent of their concerns; from the briefings we have seen, sadly this appears to be true. This may undermine much of the good work in Tower Hamlets of recent years.

We urge our local authority and its schools to adhere fully to the DfE guidance on RSE, ensuring that consultation with parents is genuine and meaningful, including taking account of their faith backgrounds. This will lead to stronger, more trusting relationships between school and home, and to a more effective delivery of RSE to pupils.

Yours sincerely

Muhammad Habibur Rahman