Redbridge Council urged not to ‘bend to pressure’ on new sex education lessons

Shamal Waraich, an east London LGBT activist, is concerned the council is 'walking on eggshells' to

Shamal Waraich, an east London LGBT activist, is concerned the council is 'walking on eggshells' to avoid upsetting some parents. Picture: LDRS - Credit: Archant

Activists are calling on Redbridge Council not to bend to pressure from religious parents when designing the new sex education syllabus.

The syllabus being created by Redbridge Council and schools will be taught from next September, in response to new legislation from the Department of Education.

Parents United, a group of parents from more than 20 schools in Redbridge and elsewhere, is worried the new syllabus could include topics they deem “dangerous” to children.

But Shamal Waraich, an LGBT activist who works across Redbridge and neighbouring Waltham Forest, is concerned the council risks “walking on eggshells” to avoid upsetting parents.

Shamal said: “This is not the Muslim community I know, it’s very worrying that people can be so driven to stop this kind of education.

“Coming from a South Asian background, I know what these parents are saying and I understand what’s behind it, even if I don’t agree with it.

“These parents are probably people I grew up with at school and it worries me that they have such backward views.

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“There needs to be pressure from the council and schools to properly explain it. They are walking on eggshells because they do not want to upset parents.”

In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, a member of Parents United said that, while she accepted LGBT topics would be taught, she did not want schools to “promote it”.

As an example, she said lessons about transgender people for primary students should be kept “factual” without “pictures or colourful stories” that could be “taken the wrong way by the child”.

Shamal objected strongly to the suggestion that sex education would “promote” LGBT identities, explaining: “This is people’s identity, not a marketing campaign.

“If parents are still using these terms, the council needs to correct them. They need to stand up to it.

“For children, this can really push them back into the closet. If anything’s ‘dangerous’ to children, it’s thinking you know better than them.

“I grew up as a young boy who liked playing with dolls and I would get scolded and told that it was wrong and dangerous because I would turn out like ‘one of them’. That has to stop.

“It’s not about promoting something or making your child turn into one of us. (If they do) they were born that way and are just suppressing it.”

Regarding the concern that colourful images could be “taken the wrong way” by some children, he added: “Kids learn from visual imagery and colours, that doesn’t mean showing anything explicit.

“With some primary school kids, it’s easier to show them a picture so they can understand it better.”

East London Humanists, a group for non-religious residents, also objected to concerns, insisting Redbridge students “deserve inclusive education fit for the 21st century”.

In a statement co-signed by chairman Paul Kaufman, the Humanists wrote: “We are confident that the local authority will quite rightly endeavour to engage in constructive dialogue with all parents before any syllabus is introduced.

“However, it is important to recognise in this process that Parents United does not represent any particular community, just themselves and their members who share their objections.”

Redbridge Council originally intended to introduce the new syllabus in September after consulting during the summer term, but this plan was prevented by the pandemic.

Director of education and inclusion Colin Stuart told the council’s education scrutiny panel in September that so far only “a little bit of work” had been done due to the need to focus on coronavirus.

He added the council hoped to have a “draft syllabus for schools to comment on” completed before the October half term so parents could be consulted between January and April next year.

Responding to concerned parents who spoke at the meeting, he said the council would “take account” of the views of all parents when creating the syllabus.

He said: “If you are a parent that comes at this from a faith perspective you might have a different view to a parent in a same-sex relationship.

“In terms of the syllabus, that will be open for consultation. Then it’s up to schools at an individual level to adapt that policy.”

Redbridge Council was offered the opportunity to respond to concerns raised by Shamal but has yet to do so.