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Welcome to a classroom where all kinds of relationships are discussed

The new RSHE curriculum is a welcome addition as it highlights society’s diversity! Children are already aware that there are many kinds of relationships, and often other families do not look like their own. The purpose behind the curriculum is for children to learn to respect such differences and know that love, care and support characterises a family.

As an RSHE consultant for schools, I am hearing concerns about teachers wanting to teach inclusively but are also worried about upsetting some parents, with a particular fear of speaking about LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) or diversity within a community. Media reports of demonstrations outside school gates have sometimes cast a negative view on the teaching of LGBT, making many teachers nervous and hesitant to teach it.

This article will discuss the delivery of LGBT themes and hopefully iron out some of the misconceptions around what is being taught. The belief that teachers are sitting children down and telling them to choose their sexuality or gender is still something I hear as a concern from many parents.

Jump to: Guidance on tackling LGBT negative perceptions

The 21st-century child

Many concerns that parents have with RHE are resolved when they engage positively with the school. Misconception about the intent and content of lessons is often based on a lack of information, where rumours are parents’ only source of information.

Schools and parents should work in partnership so that any concerns can be raised in a respectful and effective manner. For example, showing parents lesson materials and explaining why certain vocabulary is being used can help them feel confident in the curriculum and ensure they know the context in which this was taught if a child comes home with questions.

It is important to remember that the new curriculum isn’t going to bring in new information for children. Society already teaches young people that there are all sorts of relationships and often families do not look like their own. From media, music, computer games to passing two people holding hands on the street regardless of their gender, our young people are already aware of the diversity around them. Children just accept it and carry on with their day.

The key to combatting negative perceptions of parents is to communicate

For children to realise and accept that it takes all kinds of people to make up our society is surely all we could hope for as they grow into adults. To make certain the next generation is accepting, non-judgemental and overall respectful to others is something that can be learned early on and preferably without prejudice.

RHE is simply making things clearer by taking out all of the mystery and misconceptions surrounding the issue and giving pupils the age-appropriate facts. The key to combatting negative perceptions from parents is to communicate so that we understand where the values lie for some people and why. We can then share the concerns raised and work in partnership with parents to support them in understanding the importance of an inclusive curriculum. It is vital that parents are aware there are no ‘one-off’ talks about LGBT but are instead ongoing healthy messages of inclusivity throughout the RSHE framework.

"Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age-appropriate in approach and content. At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a stand-alone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, and we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum" Department for Education, RSE statutory guidance

Inclusive education is the only way

Every child comes from a different background. Some parents are married, some divorced, some children have two mums and some have two dads; some might have neither. The relationships curriculum teaches children to respect such differences and know that what matters is the love, care and support that characterises a family. Diversity is in every community and every walk of life, and children need to talk about community and belonging no matter who they are. If relationship lessons only focus on one type of family then think about how many children we are not including. Are their families not worth talking about? Are some children’s families shameful? No, absolutely not – and that is the entire reason we have to be inclusive when talking about children and the people who mean the most to them.

Let’s dispel myths and disinformation

I am asked regularly if RHE teaches little girls how to be little boys and vice versa. There is no way and nowhere in the curriculum this would ever be a lesson! I deliver puberty lessons and gender stereotype workshops and I am always mindful that there will be pupils sitting in that room not wanting to go through the changes at puberty for varying reasons, one being they may not be comfortable with their own bodies.

Many parents feel that teaching children about these issues should be a family matter and not the job of the school. The aim of RHE teaching is not to replace parents. The Department for Education (DfE) guidance clearly states that parents and carers are the prime educators for children on many of these matters and schools must complement and reinforce this role. But it is important to recognise that children already pick up information from a variety of sources, including each other, and that schools can help to dispel any myths and disinformation by discussing these matters in the classroom.

Here is an example of a useful summary statement from the parental meeting materials resources within the Health and Relationships programme:

"RHE promotes tolerance and respect. This fits in with the requirement to promote British Values and our own school ethos. We want pupils to become adults who are accepting of all people, even if their way of life is not the same as their own."

Guidance on tackling LGBT negative perceptions

I regularly have questions from pupils in Year 5 and above around trans people, such as “Can a man have a baby?” Pupils usually start the question with, “I saw this thing on YouTube…” or “I saw in the news a man was having a baby.” It is important to understand how much information children and young people are exposed to through a variety of scenarios. By asking these kind of questions children are only trying to make sense of things and the world around them.

There is a responsibility to let parents know that RHE must be delivered in line with the requirements of the Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty – primary schools as public sector bodies fall into this category. Suggestions to guide schools' responses:

"It’s our intention and duty to foster good relations between people of different protected characteristics (age, pregnancy and maternity, race, faith, disability, sexual orientation, sex, marriage and civil partnership and gender reassignment) to prevent discrimination."

"Our focus is on healthy relationships, regardless of any orientation."

"Being inclusive of different families, identities and relationships fits with our school ethos and values: we want pupils to be respectful towards all people regardless of difference. With this in mind, we provide examples of a range of different families throughout school and not just in RHE."

Looking for further guidance? Communicate effectively with parents.

No child growing up should have to worry about being judged

It is vital that schools tackle negativity around diversity as we have to ensure everybody feels they are valued. No child growing up should have to worry about being judged or feel that they cannot be who they are. Through RHE we aim to teach pupils the skills needed to understand and cope with changing emotions and feelings around personal identity, and to value and respect others for who they are.

We owe it to our children and young people to support them and their families and not to make judgement on someone’s sexual or gender preference. The teaching about different families is not going to make a pupil consider or change their identity, it will however ensure they are respectful to others and know that we are all unique, which in essence can only ever be positive.

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Confidently deliver the new curriculum requirements 

Discovery Education Health and Relationships covers the statutory requirements for teaching primary Health Education and Relationships Education from September 2020. It contains lessons for teaching all aspects of the guidelines, including the non-statutory aspects. View the programme progression.