Martha Davies shares the news that education on LGBT issues and relationships has been introduced into the UK's school curriculum.
Photo by moren hsu
As teachers and pupils adjust to a new term amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a significant change has also occurred within the curriculum, as the government’s overhaul of relationships and sex education (RSE), including the mandatory teaching of themes relating to LGBTQ+ identities, comes into force after being agreed on last year.
A New Beginning
Following a landmark ruling last year, relationships and sex education is now compulsory for British students from the age of 12, whereas previously parents were able to opt out. Starting this September, parents can remove their children from sex education lessons only until the year before their 16th birthday.
A noteworthy change in the content of the lessons themselves means that LGBTQ+ topics will be discussed – primary school children will now be taught about different family models, with secondary school students learning about sexual orientation and gender identity. British schools have been given until 2021 to put the new guidance into practice, while Welsh schools will have until the following year.
The new guideline states that the teaching of RSE “should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met” with a focus on “the importance of equality and respect.” Lesson content must comply with The Equality Act of 2010, which includes topics such as sexual orientation and gender reassignment, aligning future sex education with more inclusive values.
“Learning about different kinds of families from a young age helps create inclusive environments so everyone feels they belong. Our new school guide will support primary school teachers and leaders to deliver an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum so every young person feels safe, included and able to reach their full potential.” – Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton, Head of Education Programmes at Stonewall
The ruling marks an improvement to the content of relationships education which is vital in making children aware of diverse identities and creating a sense of openness and acceptance. The new curriculum will hopefully modernise British sex education through themes covering consent, period health, domestic abuse, sexting, and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Protests from Parents
The change is particularly momentous since LGBT themes have historically been condemned by politicians: Section 28, introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1988, aimed to to prevent schools from “promoting” homosexuality.
Such exclusionary views resurfaced with the resistance to LGBTQ-inclusive education voiced by parents last year, most notably with protests staged outside Parkfield Primary School in Birmingham after a ‘No Outsiders’ programme was trialled in sex education lessons. The programme, which aimed to diversify relationships education and challenge homophobia, was renounced by parents – a total of 400 petitioned to remove it.
The leader of the protests, parent Fatima Shah, stated that “Children are being told it’s OK to be gay, yet 98% of children at this school are Muslim. It’s a Muslim community. He said all parents are on board with it, but the reality is, no parents are on board with it.” ‘No Outsiders’ was subsequently suspended from Parkfield and an academy trust in Birmingham as teachers and parents worked to find a resolution, while discussions about the overhaul of RSE also led to schools in Great Manchester receiving complaints about their existing sex education curriculum. There will no doubt be more resistance as the new ruling comes into force this term.
The Importance of Change
Despite this controversy, the decision to update the RSE curriculum has also been praised by many as a necessary improvement. In an article for The i, Mo Wiltshire, Stonewall’s director of Education and Youth, described the ruling as “life-changing”, writing, “Generations of young people will be attending schools that not only accept LGBTQ+ people and same-sex relationships, but also celebrate and offer support on the issues that young LGBTQ+ people face.”
Though Thatcher’s exclusionary Section 28 was thankfully repealed in 2003, a report conducted by Stonewall in 2017 revealed that only one in five LGBTQ+ pupils were taught about safe sex in same-sex relationships, indicating that LGBTQ+ education was not treated with enough importance across school curriculums. The new ruling is therefore a definitive step in the right direction, suggesting that the government is committed to making relationship and health education more inclusive.
This is also evident in Scotland’s 2018 pledge to make it compulsory for state schools to teach students about LGBTQ+ equality and identity. Since there were no exemptions or opt-outs to the new policy, Scotland became the first country in the world to embed LGBTQ+ education into school curriculums, providing hope for similar decisions to be made by other governments, as England has demonstrated.
Despite the evident resistance from parents and religious groups, schools are ultimately set to become openly inclusive and encouraging towards the discussion of LGBTQ+ history, gay rights, and gender identity. With the incessant turbulence of the year so far, this is certainly a welcome change.
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