The Christian Legal Centre’s Roger Kiska shares how positive, informed engagement has helped two parents shape relationships education for good at their child’s school – and how you can make a difference too.
Although many are struggling to challenge, or to even find out about the sexualising education being given to their children, some are seeing success. Last week we received some better news with one such couple that we had been supporting.
Parents have a right to have education and teaching for their children which is in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions, and all schools must be mindful of their duties under the Equality Act 2010 which also extends to Christian families.
Before approaching the Christian Legal Centre, the couple in question were initially brushed off by their school when raising concerns about what their child would be learning as part of relationships education. Through persistence, diplomacy and knowing their rights, they were able to achieve a measure of success with which they were very much pleased.
Maintaining the anonymity of the parents, as well as the school which in the end acted honourably, we wish only to note that finding success in guiding your child’s moral education despite the new education regulations, is both possible and within your reach.
Avoid unnecessary suspicion
Admittedly, the culture can be hostile to the gospel and those who believe in it. The moral signalling and proselytising zeal of these cultural forces can often be oppressive and result in many Christians being naturally defensive. Indeed, some of these culture warriors are in our schools and driving a harmful sexualising message that will negatively impact many children.
Nevertheless, most educators are not ideological and are just trying to figure out their statutory obligations and fulfil them. They must perform a balancing act between pleasing parents who hold a wide range of different beliefs and satisfying the school inspectorate that they are doing a good job in educating and safeguarding the children in their care.
School administrators are no different than regular people. They are people who lead exceptionally busy lives and who, in their professional lives, have to make sense of a tremendous amount of bureaucracy and regulation. Many are not legally trained but are nonetheless expected to implement policies which are legally complicated and subject to a plethora of different interpretations.
As Christian Concern’s Steve Beegoo advised in February, successful engagement by parents with their children’s school often comes after respectful and constructive discourse, and not threats or hostility.
The overarching strategy
What made the endeavours of the family which successfully engaged their school last week so effective began with simple kindness and not jumping to any negative conclusions. The parents had a good relationship with the school to begin with and had received certain assurances about how relationships education would be taught to their child months in advance.
When the school seemingly reneged on those promises, instead of levelling threats or heaping abuse, they first tried to solve things with their child’s teacher. The teacher, like many in her position, believed that what she was doing was required by law. She also sought advice from a PSHE organisation she had high regards for, but which unfortunately gave her legally dubious advice.
Having been briefed with different legal advice provided by the Christian Legal Centre, which was accompanied most importantly by citations to the applicable legal authorities, the matter was brought to the attention of the Head Teacher. The parents never lost sight of their goal, continued to stay on top of their legal rights while being aware of the school’s legal obligations, and above all, maintained the same gracious relationship when dealing with the school as they had from the first moment their difficulties began.
In the end, the school’s head teacher acted in kind, admitting that there was a learning curve relating to the new regulations but wanting very much to find a workable solution with the parents. That solution was found and both parties, the school and the parents, were happy with the outcome. Ideally, particularly where school heads are not working from an ideological bias or being unduly influenced by dubious advice from outside campaigning organisations or local authorities, a happy result can be found.
One of the chief problems with the new regulations is that they have been presented by the Department for Education in a somewhat one-sided way, focusing on the implementation of the regulations and intentionally or not, largely ignoring parental rights. What certainly has not helped is that many of the campaigning organisations behind the more questionable elements of the new regulations have been aggressively canvassing schools creating the impression that much more is required regarding sensitive moral issues.
The importance of consultation
Schools across England are either consulting parents about their RSE policies or have recently done so. This is a statutory obligation and one of the most important safeguards your children have from harmful materials being taught them. In 2019 however, the Department for Education, in a very damaging move, issued guidance referring to the obligation to consult as merely an obligation of parental engagement. It does not take legal training to understand that the two are seismically different. Parental engagement, as understood by a shocking number of school administrators I have had contact with, believe it to mean that they only have to tell parents what will be taught and what will go in the policy, and then they merely have to discuss the matter with parents with little or no obligation to take on any of their views.
While it is true that consultations likewise do not require schools to take on every suggestion of parents, the standard is nonetheless higher and due consideration and transparency must accompany the process.
The duty to consult as defined in case-law requires that:
(i) consultation must take place when the proposal is still at a formative stage; (ii) sufficient reasons must be put forward for the proposal to allow for intelligent consideration and response; (iii) adequate time must be given for consideration and response; and (iv) the product of consultation must be conscientiously taken into account. R v Brent London Borough Council, ex parte Gunning (1985) 84 LGR 168 at 169.
For those parents feeling that they were not adequately consulted about what their child’s school would teach as part of RSE, the following questions can provide some insight if posed to the school:
- Would the school please evidence that they have undertaken a consultation before beginning RSE as required by S 80B(3), Education Act 2002?
- Would the school evidence how they have had regard for the religious background of pupils when developing their RSE programme as required by S. 80A(2)(b) of the Education Act 2002?
- Would the school evidence what steps they have taken to ensure the material is age appropriate as required by S. 80A(2))b) of the Education Act 2002?
- Would the school evidence what steps they have taken to guarantee that the material is delivered in a way which is critical, pluralistic and objective pursuant to Protocol 1, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights; See:Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen v Denmark, Judgment, Merits, App No 5095/71 (A/23),  ECHR 6, IHRL 15 (ECHR 1976), 7th December 1976, European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR]?
- In developing its policy and program, would the school evidence what steps it has taken to fulfil its statutory duty to respect the right of parents to raise their children in accordance with their own religious and philosophical beliefs pursuant to Protocol 1, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Right?
- Would the school evidence that it had due regard to its public sector equality duty, specifically the duty not to discriminate against any pupil or parent because of their religious beliefs pursuant to S 149 of the Equality Act 2020. This would include having regard in developing your RSE policy in a way which does not indirectly discriminate against parents and pupils because of their religion or belief?
Know Your Rights
Above all, know your rights and the school’s legal obligations in relation to the new regulations:
- RSE material must be age appropriate [Section 34(3) of the Children and Social Welfare Act 2017];
- RSE material must have due regard for the religious background of the pupils [also Section 34(3) of the Children and Social Welfare Act 2017];
- The process in which the material is chosen and taught must respect the manner in which parents wish to raise their children in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions [Protocol 1, Article 2, European Convention on Human Rights];
- The material cannot indoctrinate as to sensitive moral issues; i.e. any material chosen and the manner in which it is taught must be critical, objective and pluralistic [Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen v Denmark, Judgment, Merits, App No 5095/71 (A/23),  ECHR 6, IHRL 15 (ECHR 1976), 7th December 1976, European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR]];
- The material, and the way it is selected must have due regard to the school’s public sector equality duty to promote good relations among those with different protected characteristics, meaning that the school must have due regard not to cause offense or discord to parents of a faith background [Section 149(1)(c) Equality Act 2010];
- Schools must consult with parents when drafting and amending their RSE policies [Section 80B(3) Education Act 2002; Section 2A(f) Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014];
- Regard must be given to the principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with their parents’ wishes [Section 9, Education Act 1996];
- The pursuit or promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject is forbidden [Section 406, Education Act 1996].
The key to improving your chances of having a successful encounter with your child’s school is knowing your rights, being proactive and approaching the school with the love of neighbour Scripture calls us to. Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. It is best not to lead into such meetings trying to show your legal knowledge or threatening legal action. It is equally important to be able to express the knowledge of your legal rights in everyday language, a vernacular the school will not take as threatening or puffery. Know also that the Christian Legal Centre is here for you, ready to assist you with this journey. Lord willing, one of next Christian Concern articles may be about the successes you have enjoyed with your school.