Muslim parents in Tower Hamlets urge schools to disregard borough advice on LGBT teaching

A primary school

Muslim parents and Islamic organisations in Tower Hamlets are urging local schools to ignore the London borough’s RSE guidance which says that LGBT relationships should be taught to children as young as five.

Tower Hamlets Parents Association, East London Mosque and Tower Hamlets Council of Mosques say Tower Hamlets Council (LBTH) is pushing a policy that isn’t reflective of the Muslim community which comprises a majority of pupils in the borough.

A statement they have published, which is also supported by Ashaadibi and Darul Ummah mosques in Tower Hamlets, takes exception to the borough recommending that:

  • LGBT relationships should be taught from Year 1 (age 5)
  • Children should be taught the names of sexual organs – penis, vulva, testicles, vagina, anus, breast and nipple – from Year 1 (age 5) under the guise of safeguarding and health reasons
  • Puberty should be taught from Year 4 (age 8)

The statement, which is based on legal advice, says that the Tower Hamlets Council policy has no legal standing and that individual schools are required to write their own policies and are not obliged to comply with the borough’s policy. Rather, they must follow the Department for Education’s guidance.

The statement says: “We the undersigned organisations have had a large number of enquiries by parents in Tower Hamlets who have raised concerns about the new RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) curriculum which was required to be taught in schools from September 2020 but is now extended to start in the summer term 2021 due to Covid-19…

“Schools have a statutory duty to consult with parents before finalising any policy or curriculum. They must take into consideration the views and concerns of parents in developing and reviewing their policy… Schools must also take into account the age and religious background of all pupils in ensuring that their teaching is appropriate.

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“All schools are required to write their own policy on their new RSE curriculum in accordance with the law and Department for Education guidance. Schools are not required to follow or adopt the LBTH guidance… There is no mandatory legal requirement to teach about LGBT at a primary school level.”

Nur Choudhury, consultant for Tower Hamlets Parents Association, added: “Parents in Tower Hamlets have obtained legal advice on the RSE Guidance provided by LBTH to schools which they felt needed further clarity. On the basis of that advice, parents are requesting schools to fulfil their legal duty as set out in Department for Education guidance.

“These include the duty to ensure schools properly consult parents and to ensure that the RSE curriculum is age appropriate, taking into consideration the faith background of pupils the schools serve. On behalf of parents in Tower Hamlets, our coalition has sought a further meeting with Deputy Mayor, Cllr Asma Begum, who has oversight on Children, Youth Services and Education. We hope Cllr Asma shares concerns of parents and can begin dialogue though she has yet to respond.”

Tower Hamlets Borough Council

In April 2019, the government published an RSE and Health Education statement on their website which stated: “…Primary schools are enabled and encouraged to cover LGBT content if they consider it age appropriate to do so, but there is no specific requirement for this.”

Later this was updated and now reads: “…Primary schools are strongly encouraged and enabled to cover LGBT content when teaching about different types of families.”

Tower Hamlets Borough Council says Tower Hamlets is a place where ‘we celebrate our differences and see our diversity as strength.’

“Our borough is ‘No Place for Hate’ and we work to tackle all forms of hate and intolerance. We want our  schools to be places which champion this diversity and can make all children, and their families, feel  welcome in the school community and within our borough,” the council said.

LGBT flag

“We recognise there are concerns about some elements of the new RSE (Relationships and Sex  Education) curriculum. We are committed to supporting schools to deliver age appropriate education which helps keep children safe and secure.

“These changes have been consulted on nationally and legislation passed. The law is supported by additional statutory guidance and the government has confirmed that primary schools are strongly encouraged to include LGBT content within primary schools that is age appropriate and that children should be taught about puberty in science and have knowledge of the main external body parts. The final decision about the policy and approach will need to be agreed by the Governing Body of each school.”

LBTH says it recommends teaching about LGBT relationships in the context of different types of families so that children coming from same sex families feel welcomed and included in school, and from the very beginning of their school career in Key Stage 1.

It is also important in terms of tackling homophobic behaviour and bullying and demonstrates LBTH’s commitment to equalities, the borough argues.

LBTH adds that children should be taught in Key Stage 1 about the naming of the sexual body parts as a safeguarding issue so pupils can report abuse if it happens or so that they can accurately report medical symptoms if they are unwell.

LBTH also recommends that lessons about puberty begin in Year 4 to prepare children for puberty and menstruation for girls before it occurs.

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