“She described it as one of the worst things she’d ever had to do in school; she was shocked by the level of prejudice.”
You could hear the guilt in the voice of the primary head as he described the experience of his deputy head, who he’d left to run a consultative parents’ meeting on the content of the new relationships education curriculum.
Of particular concern among around one in 10 of the parents, said the head – who wished to remain anonymous – was the teaching of same-sex relationships.
“These people had very strong opinions, but some of it was misinformation and they weren’t exactly understanding what the same-sex teaching was about,” he said. “We had someone thinking we were going to teach about gay sex to their Year 1 child.”
Headteacher's view: DfE has made protests outside our school worse, says Anderton Park head
You can’t help but think this scenario will be played out thousands more times at primary schools across the country, as senior leadership teams run their own parental consultations, which are compulsory, ahead of the introduction of the new curriculum from September.
New sex and relationships curriculum
And you wonder how many protests will make it into the national media, just as those by parents at primary schools in Birmingham did last year.
The strength of feeling is perhaps reflected in one of those parents telling a national newspaper at the weekend that he is willing to go to jail after withdrawing his child from school because it offers LGBT+ lessons.
The truth is that teachers will need support, and in particular, senior leaders and LGBT+ teachers.
Sinéad McBrearty, CEO of teacher mental health and wellbeing charity Education Support, says they could be affected to “a more acute level” than other staff.
Last week, she chaired a high-level meeting that included the Department for Education, unions and heads of early-adopter schools, to discuss ways of supporting teachers’ mental health and wellbeing during the “potentially challenging” introduction of the new curriculum.
Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman also chipped in to the debate in a TV news interview at the weekend, when she said schools had “absolutely felt unsupported” on the new relationships education curriculum, and called for politicians to help.
“There is immense responsibility on the heads even of tiny primary schools to take on something that is really difficult and contentious in many communities now,” she warned.
But we are still in the dark as to what help there will be. The Department for Education said after last week’s meeting that it was investing in a “central support package”, including a new online service featuring training materials and an implementation guide and resources.
If teachers are to get the emotional help they need through what seems certain to be a very difficult period, then that package will need to be good. Because, as our primary head says, it is essential for these staff that we “make sure they’re OK”.
- If you want to know more about constructing and implementing the new sex and relationships education curriculum, pick up a copy of the 14 February edition of Tes magazine, which is an SRE special issue