Update, 3 December: Today, the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme ran a story on parents in Jewish schools being pressurised to take children out of sex education lessons. The story referred to emails encouraging parental withdrawal from the headteacher of Lubavitch school which Humanists UK first raised the alarm about in July. The programme also found that Yesodey Hatorah school (also mentioned in our original article) had been similarly pressing parents to withdraw their children from LGBT inclusive lessons in RSE. This was evidenced in a recording by a concerned parent in which a staff member says, ‘We need parents to formally say, ‘I do not want you to teach my child about single-gender relationships or sex education within the school’…’ Although the parent was then asked if this was something she wanted, she told the BBC that she ‘was too scared’ not to write a letter saying she wanted to withdraw her child.
Humanists UK has expressed alarm about a state-funded Charedi Jewish school which is encouraging mass withdrawal of pupils from relationships and sex education (RSE) so it does not have to teach the subject when it becomes statutory in September 2020.
The Head Teacher of Lubavitch Senior Girls School in Stamford Hill, London, sent parents a withdrawal form in an email outlining ‘the problem’ of statutory RSE – which the school does not currently teach – explicitly requesting them to exercise their right to withdraw to ‘prevent [RSE] being taught’.
The email states that the school hopes to help its pupils to ‘grow up as true Bnos Yisroel’ (‘daughters of Israel’ or ‘good religious girls’). It includes a copy of the school’s RSE policy, which the Head Teacher claims has been created by community leaders who are ‘experts in the Government regulations’. The email also states, ‘The problem is the Government is making this subject mandatory in September 2020. However, parents have the right to opt out… This subject is not currently taught in school. Please exercise your right to prevent [RSE] being taught by responding to this email and saying that you do not want your daughters to receive lessons in RSE.’
According to the new Department for Education guidance, when a parent requests to withdraw their child from compulsory RSE, ‘good practice is likely to include discussing with parents the benefits of receiving this important education and any detrimental effects that withdrawal might have on the child.’
In 2014 Yesodey Hatorah, another Charedi girls’ school located in Hackney, told Humanists UK that it did not teach sex education ‘because in practice all parents will exercise their statutory right to withdraw their children from sex education’, despite the unlawfulness of this position in a state-maintained school. But Lubavitch is the first school to be seen actively encouraging parents to withdraw with respect to the new, beefed up, compulsory curriculum subject.
The move to encourage mass parental withdrawal of pupils from RSE follows recent news that independent Charedi schools were considering a strategy of ‘civil disobedience’ to avoid teaching certain aspects of RSE and LGBT-inclusive lessons.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said, ‘It is extremely worrying that a school is encouraging parents to withdraw their children from these vital lessons so they can completely avoid the duty to provide objective, factually accurate RSE to all pupils. We warned the Government that schools would try to use this loophole to remove RSE from the curriculum and, unless the Department for Education takes urgent action to prevent schools from placing undue influence on parents to say they do not want this education for their children, we worry that many other schools may take the same approach as Lubavitch.
Commenting specifically on the right to withdraw, Dr Wareham went on: ‘The law on withdrawal denies those pupils who are least likely to encounter RSE anywhere else access to facts which are vital if they are to grow up happy, healthy, and safe. However, while it is bad enough when parents aren’t prepared to give their children access to knowledge about healthy sexual relationships, it is altogether worse when schools conspire to keep their pupils ignorant.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.
To read the message in full, visit https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Lubavitch-RSE-Withdrawal-Email-1.jpg and https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Lubavitch-RSE-Withdrawal-Email-2.jpg
To see the withdrawal form and the school’s accompanying RSE policy, visit https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Lubavitch-School-Policy-on-Relationships-and-Sex-Education.pdf
To read our recent news item on the steps Charedi schools are considering to avoid teaching LGBT inclusive RSE visit https://humanism.org.uk/2019/06/13/charedi-jewish-schools-advised-to-consider-civil-disobedience-to-avoid-teaching-lgbt-inclusive-lessons/
For more information on our work on relationships and sex education, visit https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education
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