Faith Considerations: Primary School Parents Meeting

The Tower Hamlets Healthy Schools Team (HST) supports schools through presentations at governors meetings, training for teaching and support staff, loan of resources for review and assistance in developing programmes and schemes of work. The Team also attends parents meetings.

In July 2008 a primary school which was developing its SRE policy had arrived at the stage where it wanted to involve parents in its discussions and decided to hold a meeting. The school worked with the HST to plan the meeting. Parents were informed of the meeting through letters home, notices posted around the school, and by word-of-mouth conversations with parents and teaching assistants. The meeting took place at the start of the school day, when parents would be on site after they had taken their children to school.

The majority of the families whose children attend the school come from the Bangladeshi Muslim community. About forty parents, including two fathers, attended the meeting. This represented nearly two-thirds of the parents.

The school's Year 6 teacher and Healthy School link person introduced the meeting. English-Bengali translation was provided by the school's home-school liaison worker. The Head-teacher was in the audience. A question box was provided at the rear of the hall, and parents were invited to post their questions in it anonymously. They were told that this practice would also be used in class-rooms.

The meeting lasted one-hour, longer than the planned time, and most parents stayed after the ending of the formal meeting to discuss specifics with the staff present. Most of the discussion centred on topics and the ages at which they would be taught. Vocabulary was also discussed. The responses were positive and generally welcoming, but with clear feedback from parents that they wanted to see teaching materials and more detailed lesson planning before the programme was introduced into classrooms. The contents of the question box added to the depth of the discussion and reinforced the generally positive response to the school's proposals. One comment referred to the importance of children being able to discuss SRE in the family in a 'courteous' way, including the use of an agreed vocabulary. A second comment, signed by about half of the parents, welcomed the school's proposal, asked for further consultation about the teaching materials to be used, and requested that the teaching programme included in-put on physical and sexual abuse 'because this happens to some children and they don't know how to ask for help.'

The school was impressed by the response to the meeting and the additional concrete suggestions made about the content and 'voice' of the programme. In response to the points raised the school undertook to produce a sheet for each year group which gave an outline of the topics to be taught, a list of teaching materials and of the vocabulary which would be introduced. The school attributed this positive outcome to the clarity and confidence with which the proposals were presented; the awareness by parents that sex and sexuality were important educational issues for their children; and that the school had been open and responsive to parents' comments, questions and opinions.

For further information contact: kate.smith@towerhamlets.gov.uk

This case-study was first published in the Government Office for London SRE core curriculum for London in 2009 and has been updated for publication by the Sex Education Forum in 2010.