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.