Schools may find that parents will request their child to be withdrawn from certain lessons or collective worship on religious or moral grounds. This guidance will outline the rights that parents have in relation to withdrawing their children, and what schools can do to adjust lessons and ensure all pupils can participate.
Withdrawal from sex and relationship education
From age 11 onwards, relationships and sex education (RSE) is compulsory in schools. It involves teaching pupils about reproduction, healthy and consensual relationships, sexuality and sexual health, and does not promote sexual activity or any particular sexual orientation. The national curriculum for science contains parts of RSE that are compulsory; parents can withdraw their child from all other parts of RSE, but not the statutory parts. Schools should make alternative arrangements in such cases.
Children need high-quality RSE so they can make wise and informed choices; the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) offers schools a standard pack of information to give to parents who choose to withdraw their child from SRE.
Schools should ensure that pupils with SEND in mainstream schools receive RSE. Teachers may be required to be more explicit or to plan work differently to meet individual needs. It is important that pupils with SEND are not withdrawn from RSE; it allows them to catch up on national curriculum subjects. Special schools should address the individual needs of their pupils.
Withdrawal from religious lessons
Schools must teach RE; however, parents can choose to withdraw their children for all or part of the lessons. Once a pupil turns 18, they can choose to withdraw themselves.
If a pupil is withdrawn from RE lessons, the school has a duty to supervise them at all times; however, they are not legally required to provide additional teaching or to incur extra costs. If schools’ resources allow, the pupil may be moved to another part of the school, such as the library or an uninterrupted learning space.
Where parents request for a different type of RE to be delivered to their child, alternative arrangements should be provided, either in the school in question, or at another school if this is convenient. If neither is practical, other arrangements can be made to provide the pupil with the RE that the parent has requested.
It becomes the parents’ responsibility to teach their child about their faith and world view when alternative outside arrangements cannot be arranged.
Withdrawal from collective worship
Schools (excluding academies) are required to provide daily collective worship for all pupils; the syllabus should include all of the principal religions represented in this country. Account should be taken of the local school population and the wishes of local parents, with the aim to minimise the number of pupils being withdrawn. Parents may still exercise the right to withdraw their child from collective worship.
Christmas-related activities can be perceived as collective worship; therefore, parents hold the right to withdraw their children if they wish.
Any pupils withdrawn from collective worship must be supervised at all times during any alternative arrangements. The processes for these arrangements are the same as those for withdrawal from RE lessons.
It is important that schools do not confuse a request for absence due to religious observance with a request to withdraw a child from RE or collective worship. Asking parents to submit requests in writing should assist in preventing any confusion.
The importance of creating an inclusive environment
Where parents have requested that their children be removed from lessons or activities, it is important that you remain professional and emphasise the importance of the lessons for pupils. By explaining the benefits, parents may be more inclined to allow their child to participate in future lessons.
In some cases, parents will request to withdraw their child from specific lessons addressing certain topics, such as Islam. In these circumstances, it is important that a dialogue is created between the school and parents, ascertaining the reasons for withdrawal.
These requests may not mirror the attitudes or ethos of the school; however, the parents still have the right to withdraw the child, even if it is not in keeping with the school’s values.
Where parents have requested their child be withdrawn from lessons on certain topics, for example, those that could be perceived as controversial, such as terrorism, the school may wish to discuss with parents the benefits of discussing these topics, such as:
- Promoting British values – schools have a duty to embed fundamental British values into teaching, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different beliefs. By discussing such topics, e.g. terrorism, with pupils, they will learn about the UK legal system, they will understand that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and the importance of battling discrimination.
- Promoting diversity – discussions of terrorism and other RE subjects will teach pupils about different races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and religions. Pupils who participate will become fully rounded members of society who treat others with respect.
- Safety – it is important for pupils to understand what action to take in the event of an attack or isolated incident.
- Easing anxieties and identifying fake news –attacks are commonly reported on in the media; for children who are uneducated in the subject, this can cause stress and worry. When these topics are openly discussed in lessons, these anxieties can be eased, therefore, supporting the emotional and mental health of a child. The internet is a powerful communication tool; however, there has been a rise in false news stories. If children are educated with the facts in school, they are able to develop their own opinions and avoid being led by false information.
- Reducing the risk of radicalisation – pupils will be more likely to identify the characteristics of radicalisation if they have been educated in the subject. By ensuring pupils are fully informed, they are less vulnerable to radicalisation.
Whilst it is important to respect parent’s beliefs and comply with their request, it is also important for pupils to be included in all activities, if possible, to prevent discrimination and create an inclusive learning environment.
Parents can be invited to join an RE lesson to see how the school’s locally agreed syllabus is put into practice. This can provide parents with reassurance that the school respects the beliefs of all children, and may influence their decision on withdrawal. Work can also be discussed with parents who have requested a withdrawal from RE, and agreements can be made to adjust some of the work to accommodate parents’ wishes. The pupil can then take an active part in the lessons with modified tasks, while the rights of the parents are protected.
Schools can make reasonable adjustments to lessons in relation to any planned Christmas activities. For example, where an activity involves making Christmas cards, rather than excluding pupils for those who worship faiths other than Christianity, celebratory cards could be created instead – avoiding cases of potential exclusion. Similarly, in terms of Christmas carolling at school, withdrawn pupils could be asked to write and perform their own seasonal songs.
By making such adjustments, pupils will still have the opportunity to gain and practise the skills involved in the activity being undertaken by their classmates, whilst ensuring that a diverse and inclusive learning environment is promoted.
Catholic Education Service (2017) ‘Guidance on the right of withdrawal from religious education and/or Collective Worship’
DfE (1994) ‘Religious Education and Collective Worship’
Department for children, schools and families (2010) ‘Religious education in English schools: non-statutory guidance 2010’
DfE (2000) ‘Sex and relationship education guidance’
GOV.UK (n.d.) ‘The national curriculum’, section 4, ‘Other compulsory subjects’ <https://www.gov.uk/national-curriculum/other-compulsory-subjects> [Accessed: 9 November 2017]
School Standards and Framework Act 1998, section 71