What was the government in Wales consulting on and why did Parentkind respond?
Welsh government is overhauling education in preparation for the new Curriculum for Wales 2022. As part of the reforms, there will be changes to the teaching of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Religious Education (RE).
Part of these changes is a proposal to remove the parental right to withdraw a child from these subjects.
When the government opened a consultation on their proposals, Parentkind responded as an organisation to offer parent voice within this debate. To do this, we created a survey which we promoted on social media, inviting parents in Wales to respond. In total, 106 parents offered their views, and they were representative of parents of different faiths and of no faith.
What did parents tell us about Relationships and Sex Education (RSE)?
77% indicated that it is important that their child’s school consults with/informs them about the teaching of RSE, such as course content, teaching materials and how it is taught. The level of involvement for the parental role showed more of a split, where the top response chosen by 35% was that “schools should keep parents informed (such as on course content etc.) through emails or letters sent home, without the need for consultation”.
However, more than a quarter (27%) of parents chose "schools should regularly listen to parents' views (on course content, teaching materials, how it is taught) and explain how they have actively responded to them”, which suggests a sizeable minority of parents seek direct input into how RSE is taught.
Overall, we found that parents support RSE.
- 70% of parents agreed that primary schools should be able to teach age-appropriate RSE at the discretion of the governing board; and 59% agreed after consultation with parents.
- 88% agreed that RSE helps their child stay safe and teaches them important life lessons. Only 7% disagreed.
- 90% agreed that the government should always consult with the teaching profession when reviewing RSE guidelines, indicating a strong level of support for teachers and trust in them to deliver the curriculum. 4% disagreed.
- Over two thirds of parents (68%) agreed that the government should consult with parents when reviewing RSE guidelines, where 17% disagreed.
- 63% agreed that schools should always consult with parents when making changes to RSE course content or teaching materials. 18% disagreed. This strongly indicates that parents wish to be kept in the loop and engaged by schools when policies are updated.
- Parents were polarised when it came to faith schools. Almost half (48%) of our sample disagreed that faith schools should be able to teach RSE in a way that reflects their beliefs, whereas more than a third (36%) agreed.
What is the parental role in teaching children RSE?
None of the parents who took our survey suggested that informing children about relationships and sexual health is primarily the responsibility of schools acting alone. More than two thirds (68%) suggested it was parents and schools in partnership, and over a quarter (28%) nominated parents. 97% of parents say that they are currently, or they intend to educate their children on issues relating to relationships and sex at home. This shows that most parents see the teaching of sex and relationships as a collaboration between parents and schools, and they wish to support the school’s teaching on this.
What did parents tell us about Religious Education (RE)?
Nearly ¾ (74%) of parents support the government’s move to change the name of religious education. Over half (52%) selected “Religion, Values and Ethics” as their preferred choice of new name. 8% preferred staying with “Religious Education”.
The majority of parents (69%) say that they value RE being part of the school curriculum and their child’s learning. Despite that, 14% disagree. 79% agreed with the proposition that non-religious worldviews like humanism should be included in the curriculum, but 10% disagreed. Just over half of parents (53%) agree or strongly agree that schools should consult parents about any changes to the RE curriculum, where 25% disagree. This indicates that most parents would like to be consulted, but that there is a sizeable minority of the parent community that do not wish to be engaged on this particular issue.
Parents’ views on the right to withdraw
- More than half (54%) indicated that they were not in general supportive of a parent’s right to withdraw their child from RSE classes at primary school, even if it’s not something they would necessarily do. However, more than a third (35%) indicated that they supported this right.
- At secondary school, there was a higher level of opposition to the parental right to withdraw from RSE. 65% told us they opposed it, whereas a sizeable minority of just over a quarter (27%) were supportive.
- Similar levels of support and opposition were found when we asked if parents supported or opposed in principle Welsh government’s removal of the parental right to withdraw a child from RSE. 59% supported the removal but a sizeable minority of more than a third (35%) opposed the measure. The two biggest categories were strongly support (41%) and strongly oppose (25%) indicating that the issue is polarising and commands strongly held views on both sides of the argument.
- When it came to Religious Education, more than half (52%) indicated that they did not support a parent’s right to withdraw their child from RE classes, even if it is not something they would necessarily do. However, a third (33%) were supportive.
- 57% were supportive of the government’s proposal to remove the parental right to withdraw a child from RE, but more than a third (38%) opposed the measure.
- 5% indicated that they had withdrawn their child from RE classes at school.
What did Parentkind suggest?
We concluded that if the government removes the parental right to withdraw from RE and/or RSE by or before 2022, it must be done in such a way as to ensure that parents are provided with full information, especially about what they may or may not influence. This will counteract misinformation and prevent the growth of any mistrust. Parents mostly wish to be kept informed so that they can support learning at home, and the proportion of parents exercising the right to withdraw tends to be low. We suggested that:
- The government should consider carefully how it can respond to parents who will regret or oppose the removal of the right to withdraw their child.
- With government support, schools should adopt as a framework for its parental engagement strategy our Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools to ensure collaboration between parents and teachers.
There is some way to go for government to fully engage with parents, make them aware of Curriculum for Wales 2022, specifically on areas directly impacting them such as RE and RSE, and ensure that they are brought along with the education reforms, which as the key stakeholder in the education of their child, they need to be.