Faith Considerations: Primary School SRE Policy & Programme

In the autumn of 2010 a primary school was looking to develop its Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) policy and requested support from the SRE Coordinator from the Wandsworth Teenage Pregnancy team, Southwest London.

After various meetings between the SRE Coordinator, the Headteacher, the deputy head and the school nurse they arrived at the stage where they wanted to involve parents in their discussions and decided to hold a meeting to consult them on what was now called the 'Growing Up' policy, and their proposed programme based on the young London Matters curriculum (now held on the SEF website) for their year 5's and 6's that summer.

The school worked with the SRE Coordinator to plan the meeting due to take place in the spring term. 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 during drop-off and pick-up times.

Two separate meetings were planned to take into account both the parents who were available in the daytime or at the end of the working day, as well as another two meetings for those parents of year 5 and 6 to review the programme and the proposed resources. One meeting was specifically for parents whose first language is not English so four translators were arranged to support the Urdu, Polish, Somalian and Pashtu speaking mothers.

The school has a high Somalian community and so also had to take into account that men and women could not be in the same room when talking about this subject. The school was able to work round this by offering a meeting with the male Headteacher at the same time that the women met with the female deputy head. Across the different meetings, about 70 parents attended.

The school's deputy head introduced the meeting, supported by the school PSHE Education Coordinator and Healthy School link person. The SRE coordinator presented at the first two meetings using a slideshow outlining the importance of the 'Growing Up' programme as a protective factor and highlighting the need to reduce Wandsworth's Teenage Pregnancy rates, until the deputy head felt confident to present it herself.  The meetings lasted one-hour, and parents stayed after the ending of the formal meeting to discuss specifics with the staff present.

Most of the discussion centered on topics and the ages at which they would be taught. Some parents were surprised at how late some topics were delivered, such as periods, and expressed a desire to ensure that girls and boys changed in separate rooms for Physical Education. The responses were positive and parents that had children in year 5 and 6  were keen to attend the meeting looking at teaching materials and more detailed lesson planning before the programme was introduced into classrooms.

In the meetings that looked at the teaching resources, the school was interested to learn how some parents favored more graphic -scientific - images over cartoons, as a way of ensuring that the children got the correct information but in a way that they felt didn't over emphasise pleasure, such as images of a couple running after each other in the bedroom with a feather or a scene of a man and woman having sex with the woman on top. However, in one instance it was felt that there were no materials that were appropriate for a Muslim family, and so one child from Year 6 was withdrawn from the viewing of the video but was able to attend the rest of the programme.  The Muslim parents with children in Year 5 expressed that they would not want their children viewing this video until their child reached Year 6.

Parents were encouraged to complete an evaluation from at the end of each meeting, and were returned with comments such as 'Very informative', 'Appreciate the school talking to parents about a topic that not everyone is comfortable with'.  Many parents thanked the school for providing the opportunity to have a discussion about this topic and were pleased that the school was delivering this subject to their children.

The school was impressed by the response to the meetings and the additional suggestions made about the content of the programme and the resources to be used. In response to the points raised the school is seeking to find resources that will be suitable to children and parents of the Muslim faith and is considering whether or not they introduced some of the themes to younger year groups as appropriate.

At the end of the consultation period, the Headteacher said:

"When the SRE coordinator first came into our meeting and told us how much work we had to do I was shocked, but now having gone through the process I realise how important it is to spend time doing it properly and I'm glad we did.  The response and involvement of parents has been extremely valuable."

For more information contact: Maryanne Boon, Assistant Head, Smallwood Primary School