Debate continues over new sex and relationship curriculum
Dale Spridgeon, local democracy reporter
Victims of sexual abuse, schools and parents have given a “positive response” to Wales’ new sex education curriculum – education chiefs claim.
Cyngor Gwynedd’s education and economy scrutiny committee met last week to discuss a report into the mandatory syllabus rolled out in schools.
The curriculum had prompted a heated response from some campaigners when it was discussed in Caernarfon in August.
Then, during an extraordinary meeting of the council’s cabinet, police were called, and public gallery cleared after people opposed to the implementation disrupted proceedings.
Initially called the ‘Sex and Relationships Education’ the code has been renamed as the ‘Relationships and Sexuality Education’ (RSE) – the report stated the change was to “focus on relationships.”
It is the statutory guidance for headteachers, governing bodies and Local Education Authorities and has been taught in primary schools and Year 7, at six Gwynedd secondary schools since September 2022.
The meeting on Thursday was led by Gwynedd’s head of education Garem Jackson and cabinet member for education Councillor Beca Brown.
Cllr Brown was recently subjected to an “unacceptable, targeted campaign” over the roll-out of the sex education curriculum.
MS Siân Gwenllian recently expressed her “solidarity” with the Llanrug councillor when she raised the matter in the Senedd.
Presenting the report Cllr Brown said it was still “very early days on the education code’s journey,” but feedback from the county schools and parents was “good.”
“There has been positive communication between the schools and parents,” she said.
“I have every confidence in the professions to deliver this pluralistic and inclusive education that is suitable to a child’s development.
“I am happy children will receive an education that will keep them safe and happy as they go through life.”
She added that the code had had “a lot of attention.”
“I have had much correspondence from victims of sexual abuse who are now adults, from parents of victims, from people who work with victims.
“They all said how pleased they are that this education has been formalised and it is a shame it didn’t happen sooner.
“I hope this will ensure that no child is bullied or insulted by the fact that they are different to what is considered as the norm. That is why it is so important this is implemented.”
Mr Jackson told the meeting there had been a national consultation regarding the national curriculum for Wales.
“It has been accepted, we are in regular discussions with heads, and where Beca has discussed this, they give a positive response, it is a good thing to be able to say,” he said.
“I have every faith our school leaders will deal with this matter wisely across our schools.”
He said the “pluralistic and balanced” curriculum helped children understand what is a “healthy relationship and about boundaries.”
“The Children’s Commissioner and the NSPCC have welcomed the curriculum,” he said.
During the debate, one Councillor Rhys Tudor asked if there was a “measurable way we can can get something out to teachers and parents to see how satisfied they are?
“It is only October, but it would be useful to provide something in due course, more relevant after a fairly substantial period so we can review development?”
Cllr Jina Gwyrfai said the curriculum had “polarised” people adding “I have had teachers asking for more training and parents that are not happy.
She suggested “If you want to consider the curriculum you should scrutinise the negative responses also.”
Mr Jackson responded saying the negative response had only come from a “small minority who were vocal in this area.”
“The response we get is that the schools, parents and staff welcome it.”
Former teacher Cllr Cai Larsen was “surprised the matter has been so contentious.”
“As someone who has taught this subject, the framework isn’t that much different from how it was taught in the past, in my time.
“The element that is different is more emphasis on relationships, but otherwise it doesn’t strike me as fundamentally different.”
Mr Jackson replied “What has changed is the fact that it is taught across all areas of learning for children to understand a healthy relationship and boundaries.
“It helps us strengthen our safeguarding, and so that children can make informed choices in their own lives.”
Councillor Louise Hughes, who strongly opposed the curriculum at the August meeting, said “I am not here for a fight. I want to scrutinise in more detail what has now become mandatory.”
She queried if parents could remove their children from the lessons, asked why the code changed its name and about the appropriateness talking to young children about sexuality.
“It feels to me that we are venturing into Orwellian territory, parents know their children best not the government.
“I don’t agree with it. I want that minuted.”
Cllr Gruffudd Williams in a lengthy address said was “very unhappy at the direction Gwynedd was going into at this moment.”
He had concerns over ideology, terminology and appropriateness of discussing sexual matters with young children
During the debate, the council’s monitoring officer Iwan Evans had reminded members that it was “inappropriate” to make any comments which implied or suggested – without evidence – that schools and the council by implementing the curriculum would be guilty of conduct which was in breach of their duties towards children.
Whilst developing the Curriculum for Wales Gwynedd schools had also been supported by GwE.
Speaking during the meeting, GwE managing director Arwyn Thomas said: “It is our intention to ensure that our children are safe.
“Our role is to work with the schools and leaders to see how we can do that.”
He also described a process by which the curriculum would develop and be audited locally.
“The objective is to set milestones to see how effective this provision is.”
Cllr Brown proposed that the report that would be scrutinised at some point in time seconded by Cllr Paul Rowlinson.
Members voted to carry out a registered vote, to accept the report, and scrutinise it further at some point in time.
It resulted in 15 in favour, one abstaining and three against.
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