A report by a Tower Hamlets head teacher which guided the government to introduce compulsory Personal, Social, Health and Economic education to school pupils has had mixed reactions in East London Lines boroughs.
The independent review led by Sir Alasdair Macdonald, head teacher of Morpeth School in Bethnal Green, was key in Schools’ Minister, Ed Balls’ decision to introduce mandatory PSHE lessons from 2011.
Sir Alasdair said: “Speaking as the Head of an inner city multi-faith secondary school, I know first hand the vital role that PSHE plays in preparing young people to deal with real life issues.”
Aware of the potential conflicts such views could elicit, Sir Alasdair added: “In my review I consulted widely – with schools, teachers, parents, faith groups and children and young people – among all of whom there was very strong support for making PSHE, including SRE, part of the National Curriculum.”
The decision has been praised by many local teachers and union members as an indication of sensible progression in education policy. Abdul Choudhury, a teacher from Mulberry School was enthusiastic about the new decision and sees it as a crucial development. He said: “It’s about time, to be honest. I’ve always said that we could have the friendly local drug dealer or Eastenders teaching our kids sex education. Or we could have professional teachers who have been through a million one CRB checks and are vastly qualified.”
Mr. Choudhury, who is also Tower Hamlets branch secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Union added: “We need [PSHE] from trusted professionals who are sensitive to and understand the community. I think every school in the borough should know how much the parents respect them.
“Unfortunately, you get the odd person who thinks they’re representative of the community, but in actual fact they’re not.”
PSHE teaches pupils to make the right decisions for the future. It addresses the issues outside of formal education that children encounter as they grow up, such as leading healthy lifestyles; body image and health issues; managing personal finance; careers education; avoiding the dangers of drugs and alcohol; and sex and relationships.
Kathy Duggan, a Lewisham teacher is more reserved in her judgement of the news. She said: “Sex education should form only part of a well balanced curriculum which includes discussions about relationships, families and the way we live together in society.”
The opposition to the decision, according to Mr. Choudhury, has come from governors of faith schools. He said: “The way they’ve [certain governors] expressed their concerns [is that] they see it as their religion under attack. They think their culture and religion is undermined, and they try and rally support.”
Mr. Choudhury said that as a Muslim himself he understood their viewpoint. He said: “It’s not something, culturally, that we are supposed to find out about until much, much later on, and I have young nieces who are still unaware.”
But he stressed the importance of PSHE teaching, adding: “I know our community, and it is crucial to have this teaching.”
Rashid Khan, Policy Manager for Madani Secondary Girls’ school said: “We do have some disagreement with the SRE. We will oppose it. If there is a choice we’ll opt out of it. There is a moral and religious objection to it.”
Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, however, refutes opinions that most people want this legislation. He said: “Ed Balls can say what he likes. There is no groundswell of public opinion for compulsory PSHE or sex education. For some children … schools are already threatening places. Can it be right that children come home from primary school worried about drugs, sex and suicide … Or are those in charge doing more harm than good?”