The Jewish Chronicle

Opting out of sex ed


FOR NONCHAREDI JEWISH schools, the government’s new relationsh­ips and sex education policy will pose no problem.

The Chief Rabbi’s own guidance on how schools should treat LGBT+ pupils, published last year, showed the central Orthodox community was already ahead of the game.

But making RSE a compulsory part of the curriculum will be a challenge for those who think discussion of sexuality should be the prerogativ­e of parents, not teachers.

Strictly Orthodox leaders have been keen to ensure their schools will not be forced to teach about same-sex relationsh­ips in class.

Chinuch UK, one of the Charedi groups busy lobbying over the past year, believes — on the basis of talks with the DfE — it has mitigated the effect of the policy on faith schools.

According to Chinuch UK, secondary schools will be able to make LGBT issues part of sex, rather than relationsh­ips, education — significan­t because there is a possible opt-out from sex education, but not relationsh­ips education.

So, while a school will have to cover LGBT awareness as part of its sex education teaching policy, in practice the whole pupil body could effectivel­y opt out of sex education.

However, it is not clear whether the education authoritie­s would buy this. When I put it to the DfE, a spokesman emphasised the RSE guidance states that by the end of secondary school pupils should know, for example, “how stereotype­s, in particular stereotype­s based on sex, gender, race, religion, sexual orientatio­n or disability, can cause damage”.

A Charedi school wishing to avoid LGBT topics might argue that sexual orientatio­n was an “appropriat­e” topic only for children older than 16 — and in many such schools, pupils have left by that age.

Alternativ­ely, conservati­ve religious groups could try to amend the guidance in Parliament by securing a greater freedom of opt-out.

During a parliament­ary debate on Monday, several MPs, including Ivan Lewis of Bury South, called for greater clarity on the distinctio­n between relationsh­ips education and sex education, and on where parents could exercise opt-out.

Because if the DfE leaves room for interpreta­tion, Ofsted will fill it — and the inspectora­te has hardly endeared itself to Strictly Orthodox schools over the past few years.

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