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Relationships and Sex Education: Implementation date draws closer

31 Dec

I        Introduction

The government has legislated that as from September 2020, all children in primary schools and academies will engage in relationships education. This will be expanded at secondary level to relationships and sex education (RSE).  Pupils will learn about how to keep safe online and taking care of their mental health.  In primary schools and academies, pupils will continue to learn (scientifically) about how, as they physically grow, their bodies morph when moving through puberty.

For primary schools and academies, the guidance about sex education is vague.   It stipulates only that pupils should be “taught lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) content at a timely point”. There is no indication of what is “timely”. However, schools and academies must ensure that LGBT content is “fully integrated into their programmes of study”, not “delivered as a standalone unit or lesson”. Teaching about sexual orientation must be inclusive and respectful and must give pupils “an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships”.

Meanwhile, parents will continue to have the right to request that their children be withdrawn from those lessons up to the age of 15.  Headteachers will have the power and responsibility to grant such requests.

After the age of 15, pupils will decide for themselves whether to attend RSE classes. The government guidance states that headteachers are expected to talk to the parents of pupils below the age of 15 (who make the withdrawal requests), discuss the benefits of receiving this important part of the educational provision and “any detrimental effects that withdrawal may have on their children”.

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Damian Hinds’s educational vision

17 Aug

Damian Hinds described the direction in which he will steer the future education of the children in our country. He proposes expanding opportunities for young people by loosening the reins of accountability on schools and academies and giving teachers greater opportunities to grow and develop professionally.

I        National Association of Headteachers’ Conference

When addressing a conference of the National Association of Headteachers on 4 May 2018 in Liverpool, he told delegates: “Accountability is vital. Children only get one shot at an education and we owe them the best…where they are being let down we need to take action quickly – so no one ends up left behind.

“But what I’ve found from speaking to many of you these last few months is that there is also real confusion within the sector… I believe school leaders need complete clarity on how the accountability system will operate.

“I’m clear that Ofsted is the body that can provide an independent, rounded judgement of a school’s performance.

“This means we will not be forcibly turning schools into academies unless Ofsted has judged them to be inadequate.  I believe strongly that becoming an academy can bring enormous benefits to schools. Hundreds of schools every year voluntarily choose to become academies and I want this to be a positive choice for more and more schools as we move forward.

“We must also have a system that does more than just deal with failure… But we will do so in the right way, and there will be a single, transparent data trigger for schools to be offered support – which we will consult on.  I intend this to replace the current confusing system of having both below the floor and coasting standards for performance…

“I have a clear message to schools and their leaders: I trust you to get on with the job.”

Mr Hinds recognised that those involved in education knew about the “what” that was needed to secure excellent provision for our children.  However, there continued to be dissonance on the “how” of achieving those objectives.  While schools and academies – like all other publicly funded institutions – were accountable to the taxpayers, there was “confusion within the sector” on the multiple accountabilities to which school leaders and teachers were subjected.

He said that Ofsted (and only Ofsted) would be the body that would provide independent, rounded judgements on the performances of schools and academies.  He wanted schools – including those that required improvement – to be free to make their own decisions, and if they wished to go down the academy route, he thought the choice should be a positive one rather than one stemming from compulsion.  Schools that are struggling will, in the first instance, be offered support before being shanghaied into another academisation.

He recognised that the system of having below the floor and coasting standards for performance needed to be replaced by something that was simpler and coherent.  To this end, he would be working.  What was encouraging was his statement: “I have a clear message to schools and their leaders: I trust you to get on with the job.”

To retain good, experienced teachers in England, he stated that they would be offered up to a year’s paid sabbatical after 10 years’ services.   For this purpose, he has set £5 million aside.   It is more likely that a teacher will receive a term’s sabbatical, albeit occasionally, she/he could be offered a year off to study or spend time working in an industry relevant to her/his field.

Newly qualified teachers (NQTs) will have their probationary period lengthened from a year to two years.  “We will be introducing an enhanced offer of support for new teachers, including extending the induction period to two years,” he said, “and we will work with the profession to develop a new early career content framework that will set out all the training and mentoring a teacher is entitled to receive in those first years.”

Mr Hinds has recognised that the profession is haemorrhaging teachers at a very unhealthy rate.   He remarked: “We have a shared goal of making sure teaching remains an attractive, fulfilling profession.  We will take an unflinching look at the things that discourage people from going into teaching or make them consider leaving and we will look at how we support teachers to get better at what they do and hone their expertise and career progression.”

Mr Hinds will create an advisory, working group with the teacher unions to help develop the strategy of the Department for Education.  Among other things, this working group will address teachers’ workload and how it can be eased for them without negatively affecting the quality of education, the progress that children make and the standards they achieve.  He acknowledged that unacceptable burdens were placed on teachers by the policies they set on marking and the data that they were directed to garner and maintain.   He hinted that governors and headteachers were responsible but they in turn passed on the pressures from central bodies such as inspectors, Regional School Commissioners (RSCs) and the DfE itself to the front-line workers – teachers and teaching assistants.

He said that standards in the classrooms were higher than ever.  Altogether, 89% of schools and academies had been judged Good or Outstanding by Ofsted.   This should give us cause to be optimistic.

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