Acacias Community Primary School.
Acacias Community Primary School is a long-established community school with around 480 students and is situated in an ethnically diverse suburb of Manchester, called Burnage. The school aims to provide its students with”a broad, balanced and differentiated curriculum” and has received the UNICEF silver rights-respecting school award. The school also aims to develop effective partnerships with parents and carers as well as the community it serves. The school has recently experienced a number of parents protesting against its sex education curriculum, so I decided to head down to the school gate at pick-up time to ask a few parents their opinions.
Overall I asked 8 parents or sets of parents to answer my questions.
This included both male and female guardians as well as a mix of ethnicities. One couple did initially agree to the survey but refused to answer my questions when the found out the topic was sex education – therefore consider these results out of 7.
Here are the results of my survey:
- Do you feel involved in your child’s education?
Yes: 5 parents
No: 0 parents
Other: 2 parents (“Kind of” and “to an extent”)
Do you think that sex education should be taught in primary school?
Yes: 4 parents
No: 2 parents (“too young”)
Other: 1 parent (unsure as their child is too young to have this education yet)
Do you like the way it is taught in this school?
Yes: 2 parents
Others had very different comments:
- I would if the school communicated it with the parents, there have been issues with communication in the past
- There’s not enough depth… but it should be age-appropriate
- the new curriculum has not been decided yet – so I’m not sure
- things have been taken out of the curriculum for the parents
- My child is too young to have had any of this yet
- I don’t know as my child hasn’t experienced any so far
- I’m not sure I know
Do you feel like the curriculum of the school should adapt to reflect the values of the parents and the community?
Yes: 6 Parents
Other: 1 parent (” to an extent, it should have some flexibility but it has to respect some sort of national curriculum”)
Overall, I am really grateful for the parents who gave up their time to answer my question – especially at a busy time in their day. I tried to ask both mothers and fathers as well as different ethnicities and people with different aged children. Ultimately I didn’t notice any correlation with opinions and ethnicity or gender as many people responded very differently.
This was a particularly nerve-racking engagement for me, approaching strangers to ask them about an issue that is clearly a sensitive topic for some parents at this school. I think this showed in the couple who didn’t want to answer ” any more questions on this topic” – which means this is an issue that they have perhaps been previously questioned about or involved in. Given how recent the protests and complaints have been (only happening in the past few weeks) and the continued controversy at other schools in the UK I can definitely understand their decision to remain out of the issue.
From those who did respond, the results did surprises me. Almost of the parents felt that the school should have to adapt to reflect the views of the parents and community which is particularly significant as the school have made adjustments to the curriculum since the protest. Most parents also said they felt involved in their child’s education which is perhaps a result of the school’s actions. Whether or not parents felt that sex-ed should be taught at primary school seemed to be the question that the parents felt the most strongly for or against. The school’s website says that sex and conception isn’t covered in the PSHE curriculum, instead it provides lessons on “growing and changing”. It says that parents reserve the right to remove their child from these lesson but the school encourage that parents let their child attend these lesson to learn this information in a safe environment.
I think the most interesting response was from a parent that said that it isn’t was is taught so much as things being clearly communicated with parents so they have that transparency and rapport with the school. I think this is especially pertinent as I have noticed that, from my personal experience, having access to decisions regarding education policy isn’t very easy in the UK and the system isn’t as transparent as it should be.
Overall, I think this was a very important engagement for me as it allowed me to hear a diverse range of opinions and engage with the general public, individuals whose families are affected by this issue. I think this gave me a better understanding of the different perspectives on the issue.
Muireann Nic an Rí is a teacher in an inter-denomination school in Ireland. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding the teaching of sex education in Ireland. Given the geographical and schedule restraints, the interview was conducted via emails. Here is a transcript of the questions I asked and her responses:
What are the current obligations for teaching Sex education?
The current obligations for me personally are to follow the RSE curriculum as laid out by the NCCA ( National Council of Curriculum and Assessment) guidelines, our school ethos and our school RSE and SPHE policies. Relationships and Sexuality education which is located in the overall framework of Social, Personal and Health Education, has as its specific aims:
(a) To help pupils understand and develop friendships and relationships
(b) To promote an understanding of sexuality
(c) To promote a positive attitude to one’s own sexuality and in one’s relationship with others
(d) To promote knowledge of and respect for reproduction
(e) To enable pupils to develop attitudes and values toward their sexuality in a moral, spiritual and social framework in keeping with the policy of the school
(f) To provide opportunities for pupils to learn about relationships and sexuality in ways which help them think and act in a moral, caring and responsible way.
How will a bill like [the bill for Objective sexual education] change that?
I don’t think this bill will bring any major changes for me, as we already teach an inclusive curriculum.
Do you think there needs to be change?
In our school, personally no, I don’t feel we need any major changes. We still see parents as the primary educators of the students in our care. Our school’s function is to provide a general education about sexual matter and issues.
What influence does the Catholic church and/or government have over what is taught in Sex education?
As I teach in an interdenominational school, the church has no influence over the RSE programme. The programme is presented as part of the SPHE class. RSE is currently undergoing a review by the National Council of Curriculum and Assessment. Specifically, the NCCA’s review will encompass the following aspects of RSE:
● Consent, what it means and its importance
● Developments in contraception
● Healthy, positive sexual expression and relationships
● Safe use of the internet
● Social media and its effects on relationships and self-esteem
● LGBTQ+ matters.
How has the influence of the Catholic church changed in your time as a teacher?
This does not affect me as a teacher as I teach in an interdenominational school. I would say however that the church seems to have less influence in general on society. I feel their influence has declined largely due to the child abuse allegations.
Does there need to be a nationally agreed curriculum or is important to have a diversity to address the values of different groups? I would personally prefer to see a nationally agreed curriculum so that all students access the same information but I can understand if a parent has enrolled their child in a school under the Catholic ethos, that they might expect the programme to reflect the values of that faith. Parents of our students have the right to withdraw their children from the programme, this is stated in our policy. In my personal experience, this has not happened.
1. What do you feel that you have learned and gained from the engagement?
This engagement was really important for me to get an insight into a teacher’s perspective. Lots of Muireann’s responses confirmed issues I had uncovered in my research, for example, the decline of the catholic churches influence after the abuse scandals. Other responses helped clarify exactly the requirements of the curriculum and what adaptations may be made. However, some responses surprised me in highlighting the parents’ responsibility to educate their children and their right to remove their child from programmes that don’t reflect their views.
2. How does it inform the political issue?
This interview has really helped me get a better understanding of my political issue. My issue is a comparative study of the sexual education legislation in Ireland and the UK. This engagement has been relevant by providing more concrete detail on sexual education teaching as well as offering a perspective on the political issue from someone very much affected by it. This political issue provokes many questions and I’m very grateful that Muireann was kind enough to answer some of mine in such detail.
3. What are the most important points to take away from this engagement?
I think that Muireann’s responses really helped me highlight some of the similarities between perspectives in Britain and Ireland as well as help me pinpoint where they diverge. It also has been valuable to hear a teacher’s opinion on the role of the government and parents in this issue.
4. What key concepts and theories do this political issue relate to in the global politics course?
I think this political issue can be linked to multiple key concepts. Firstly, I think it is connected to equality as it is attempting to provide equal opportunities for students to access factual and unbiased education regardless of their upbringing and religion. I think it also relates to equality for the LGBT community, as many people believe that an inclusive curriculum that promotes acceptance for all sexualities and non-binary relationships will help challenge homophobia and help students accept their own sexuality.
However, this may also provide challenges in terms of an individual’s liberty. Which refers to an individuals right to live without excessive interference from those in power, and with the freedom to flourish and make the most of opportunities. Whilst LGBT+ individuals deserve to live a life free from harassment and discrimination, individuals also reserve the right to freedom of thought conscience and religion. Whilst we might hope for LGBT acceptance to be a universal value, there is a conflict between the right for individuals to have their sexuality respected and the right for individuals to have their religious view respected.
Overall, I think this is a human rights issue and a particularly interesting one I am excited to explore as it seems to express a conflict of views from a more liberal perspective and a more conservative perspective.
If Immanuel Kant believed that politics should be shaped by the central importance of morality, what happens if we cannot decide who’s morals or values to use?
People need information to make informed decisions… decisions born out of ignorance or half a story – that’s not education.
Sue Woodroofe has been a secondary school teacher in different countries as well as a principal to both primary and secondary students, both in the UK and abroad. She is now the principal of an interdenominational independent school in Yorkshire. Sue was kind enough to let me interview her on the role of religion in education.
1. What do you feel that you have gained from the engagement?
This engagement really helped me put lots of the ideas and opinions that I had heard from parents and politicians into perspective. This gave me a valuable insight into the views of educators and I was surprised to see that despite the differences in the national curriculum and the different pressures from parents and the state, there were a lot of similarities in the views of Muireann Nic a Ri (Irish teacher) and Sue Woodroofe.
2. How does it inform the political issue?
This interview was very relevant to lots of the issues brought up by my political topic and Sues’ responses were very detailed and thought-provoking. Her views as a Christian teaching in a secular environment were very interesting especially her view that the responsibility of schools is to provide students with the wider context / the bigger picture for them to place their own views into.
3. What are the most important points to take away from this engagement?
Sue ideas were that students have a right to information and that a national curriculum needs to represent the views of different groups to give students the ability to reach informed opinions not born out of ignorance or bias. She did recognise however that schools often experience enormous pressure from parents and that the pressure is inevitably less for independent schools than that of state schools. Sue’s responses helped me realise the importance of religious education for most families and her responses also acknowledged that when talking about a particular religious group’s view on sex education it is important to recognise the hugely diverse spectrum within religions with many people of the same religion holding different views.
4. What key concepts and theories does it relate to in the global politics course?
This links to the idea of human rights as people have the right to have access to education as well as the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Human rights are, by design, indivisible and therefore all rights are of equal importance and cannot be placed above another. Governments are not permitted to choose some rights over others and have to respect all rights that are afforded to individuals. Whilst the government can try to increase tolerance and acceptance as part of a national curriculum the cannot/shouldnot do so in a way that undermines the importance of freedom of religion.
One thing I’ve learnt today…
One of the first things we did today as Global Politics Extended Essay Students was to go through the marking criteria and read an exemplary essay. This gave me a much better idea of what I should be aiming to write as well as the style and format of my essay.
One thing I’m proud of…
Today I managed to decide on a defined research question and complete an essay plan. I am really proud of my essay plan as it is fairly detailed and will help me when writing. I outlined all of my sections and bullet-pointed my main arguments and points, ensuring they stayed relevant to the research question.
What I will be doing next:
Next, I will be writing my first 1000 words about globalisation and how cross border communication can be a tool in political protests. I have already decided on my main points and ideas for this section. This will be due on the 22nd of May.
What is your motivation for choosing the political issue and range of engagements?
As part of the Global Politics course, I get the opportunity to actively engage in political issues that I’m passionate about. A lot of my family live in Ireland and as I am also hoping to go to university in Ireland, I really wanted to do find out more about some of the important political and social issues prevalent there.
After the recent success of the Repeal the Eighth campaign, a pro-choice movement which helped make abortion legal in Ireland, I was interested in the shift in society toward more liberal values. When exploring this it became clear that the growth of more progressive, left-wing ideas have been facilitated by the movement away from the Catholic church as well the increasing political awareness of this generation. This change is perhaps due to the increasingly important concept of globalisation; the growing interaction and interconnectedness has increased travel as well as being catalysed by the importance of social media and supracultural communication.
When looking at different case studies that represented this issue I found a party called Solidarity who have been involved in a bill to reform sexual education in schools. This need to change the curriculum to a more inclusive, non-denominational programme represents the change in cultural values in society. I think the changes to sexual education is an interesting issue for me as I have been schooled in multiple countries and the curriculums have been very different in order to represent the cultural and religious values in society. For example, when I lived in a Muslim country there was no sexual education whereas there was a more progressive curriculum when I lived in Europe and then I moved to another country where LGBT rights aren’t respected and the legalities of LGBT+ relations aren’t discussed in the course.
More inclusive sexual education curriculums which discuss different sexualities and different religious perspectives have been controversial in other countries as well, the teaching of LGBT perspectives in a primary school in Birmingham lead to parents protesting and stopping their children from going to classes. This is clearly a current and important issue for many people; exploring the different perspectives and the role of the government in dictating school curriculum will be a very interesting area of politics to engage in over the summer.
Having grown up in the middle east, I was very interested in researching politics in the region. I wanted to have a personal connection to my EE topic and I have a desire to understand aspects of the social and political context of the region, which I was too young to be aware of when I live there. After talking to my Global Politics teacher about how the internet and social media affect politics, I was keen to do further research into this area which isn’t featured on our politics course and decided the Egyptian revolution would be the perfect case study. An initial challenge was my lack of knowledge on the events of the revolution however I was able to find documentaries, books, academic journals and other great resources to help me. Another challenge when researching was that it is a recent and sensitive issue for many, but the different perspectives and actors involved may help enrich my EE.