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Thinking the unthinkable: Parents withdraw children from a week of school

September 2019 | by Paul Smith

Naomi and Matthew
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Withdrawing two primary-age children from a week of schooling is a step of last resort. But that is the point that two concerned parents reached just before the summer. Faced with a new Sex and Relationships Education curriculum, Matthew and Naomi Seymour felt they had no other choice. ET caught up with them to find out why, and how other parents might be affected.

How long have your children been in state schools?

We have three children. Our the eldest is about to go into Year 9, so this summer marks our ninth year with children in state schools. Due to moving house, our children have been in four different primary schools and two secondary schools.

How did you realise there was a new curriculum?

We were invited to join a consultation group in our two youngest children’s Warwickshire primary school. We’d been aware that there were some changes coming to teaching on gender, same-sex relationships and sex education, but didn’t realise how big these were.

We remember preparing for the session. Looking through the teaching outline for each year group we saw some really alarming content. In the consultation session the school shared more materials which worried us further.

About two weeks later, just before the end of the consultation, we were given access to the lesson plans. Now we were very alarmed about what was going to be taught.

Is this just for Warwickshire?

The programme in our children’s primary school was written for all Warwickshire schools and it is being used widely. The scheme’s author told us that they want to see the materials being used in other areas around the country. The scheme is called ‘All About Me’.

image for illustration purposes only
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What sort of things are in it?

The framework used for the scheme is called Comprehensive Sex Education. As a starting point it wants to affirm that ‘all consensual sex between adults is good’. When a scheme starts with that foundation the specific content is always going to be concerning.

The scheme teaches and encourages transgender thinking and behaviour in children from reception (age 4). Sex education begins in year 1 (age 5), same sex relationships are normalised from the start and masturbation is encouraged in years 2 (age 6), 4 (age 8) and 5 (age 9).

We were concerned to see a number of subtle attempts to disconnect children from parental care and input.  It was also alarming to find no positive teaching on marriage anywhere in the scheme.

At the same time there was some helpful material on personal space, safeguarding and friendship.

What was the consultation process?

Some parents were invited in to comment on the materials and a number of parents raised objections either in person or in writing. One well-educated Muslim parent made reasoned criticisms but these were dismissed. Very few changes were made and the school pressed ahead with teaching the materials.

Parents were offered the opportunity to remove their children from any lessons. But from September 2020, Relationships and Sex Education will be compulsory in all schools, and parents will only have the right to ask that their children are removed from the sex aspects, not the relationships aspects.

How did you respond?

We wrote a number of times to the curriculum co-ordinator and the head teacher raising objections. We asked repeatedly for a meeting but that was never offered to us prior to the teaching of the scheme. It felt like we were not being heard by the school.

Was the objectionable content obvious?

Some of it was clear, but other parts were less obvious. The school was protective about sharing the lesson plans with parents, only allowing them to be seen if you came into the school and spoke to a teacher. They provided summaries, but those summaries did not reflect the actual content of the lessons.

We also know that the school introduced very worrying videos in some year groups that were not mentioned on lessons plans. It was very hard to trust the school to teach only what they said would be included.

What was the most worrying content?

The material on transgender was, at points, very subtle and mixed in with material on gender stereotyping. As we read the lesson plans, we needed to ask both what was actually being said and how that could be interpreted and understood by our children.

With the basic aims of the curriculum opposed to the Bible, we expected worrying content both in direct teaching and in the subtle messages that come through in other ways. A good example of this is the total lack of teaching about marriage. The Bible teaches the goodness of the marital embrace between husband and wife, but the scheme taught intimacy completely outside that context.

Was it easy to speak up?

It was one of the hardest things that we’ve had to do as parents. We want to be supportive of our children’s teachers and the school as a whole. We’re thankful for all that our children have learnt from their teachers in many contexts, yet throughout the process we were made to feel like we were imposing our ideas on others. We were not doing that at all. We were not asking the school to teach according to our convictions, just not to teach against our convictions.

Were you worried about the effect on your children of speaking up?

Yes. We prayed and thought long and hard about it. We resolved that it was right to speak up even if that did affect the children because the moral issues were so clear and the implications of the teaching on every child, including our own, could be very serious.

What made you decide to withdraw your children?

The materials were going to be taught over an intensive week with an hour-long lesson each day. Although the school offered to take the children out of specific lessons, we were worried that they would hear about the content outside of the lessons.

This could have happened in the playground as children talked about what they’d heard in class. It was also possible that children might have asked questions of their class teachers outside the lessons. We were told that the afternoon lessons would be deliberately low key to allow flexibility should they ask questions.

The content was so harmful and the risks were too great. We felt it would have been wrong before the Lord to have let our children hear what the school wanted to teach.

What did you do whilst they were out of school?

Naomi home-schooled the children for the duration of the scheme and they had a great week of home learning. They did miss out on some other things in school outside of the lessons, but we’re very glad that they didn’t hear all that was harmful and wrong in the scheme.

Although it did mean that the children stood out, we felt that they stood out less than they might have done if they were withdrawn from individual lessons whilst being in school.

Did you have any Christian support during the process?

Our church family were very supportive. They prayed for us and for other parents facing similar situations. We’re hugely thankful to John Denning at the Christian Institute who was a big help to us too. We didn’t know him before but got to talk by contacting the Christian Institute. Also, Liz Jones from Lovewise kindly came down and gave a presentation at our church to discuss the issues raised by the scheme.

What did you learn from the process?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but our awareness of the significance of the issues grew the most when we looked at the materials. We think we should have been more insistent to meet with the head teacher before the materials were taught. We might also have tried to approach the governors about the materials, but it all happened very fast.

Have you any advice for other Christian parents?

Our children’s school was teaching the new materials ahead of the legal requirement to cover the subjects. We would encourage other parents to approach their school senior management and governors as soon as possible to request input into the curriculum choices before a scheme is selected.

The government guidance is general and could be interpreted in a number of ways. Some schools seem to have taken the change in guidance as an opportunity to teach far more extensively than the guidance requires.

Have you only had problems with the new Relationships Education?

Sadly not. Looking through our children’s books at the end of term, it also appears that some material of transgender has been taught as part of PSHE lessons.  This was to a child only seven years old.

What do you plan to do in the future?

We want to continue to talk to the school about the materials. We might consider further approaches to the governors since they are not always aware what is happening in the school. We’ll make decisions about next year when we see the materials the school intends to teach next year.

Interview by Paul Smith, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Broadstairs, Kent