Council commitment on controversial guidance for primary schools
In front of a packed public gallery, a special meeting of the Comhairle on Tuesday backed a motion to “further commend” the use of the learning resources produced by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.
This reaffirms a decision taken by the Comhairle in 2020 but which many parents believe has not been implemented in some of the islands' primary schools.
The reaffirmation of policy follows discussions between education officials, teachers and parents who were concerned over the graphic nature of materials shown to primary pupils in line with the Scottish Government guidance on relationships and sexual health.
The motion, proposed by Loch a’Tuath ward councillor Calum MacLean, stated that parents “are seen as key partners in the teaching of RSHP and their joint role is to be respected,” and commits the authority to further consultations with parents on resources before they are used in the 2023/2024 session.
The special meeting resulted from more than a third of councillors backing a call, with the proposer of the meeting, Councillor Calum MacLean, alleging that a policy adopted by councillors was not being followed.
In November 2020, councillors backed an alternative policy commending the use of the SCES materials, and, Cllr Maclean claimed, opposing the use of “inappropriate” materials shown on the RSHP.scot website, which he claimed are now being commonly used in island schools..
He proposed on Tuesday that the Comhairle adopt a policy that schools use “only” the “age and stage appropriate materials” of the SCES “with variations to reflect the differing religious aspects of our island communities”.
Cllr MacLean had last week proposed that the council adopt a policy that schools use “only” the “age and stage appropriate materials” of the SCES “with variations to reflect the differing religious aspects of our island communities. ”
He said that since he lodged a call for the special meeting last week,”lengthy conversations” had taken place with the Comhairle’s education department, who he said, had “thankfully agreed to a revised amendment.”
Cllr Maclean’s proposal was put to the special meeting as an addition to the recommendations in a report before councillors on the current guidance on the teaching of RSHP which had been prepared by a senior Comhairle Education official.
Comhairle Convenor, Cllr Kenny Macleod indicated that the Comhairle was minded to back Cllr MacLean’s amendment as an addition to the report’s recommendation and to note the contents of the report.
The report’s author said it maintained that the Comhairle’s Education, Skills and Children’s Services had respected the decision taken by the Comhairle in 2020, and had done so “as far as it is within our powers to do.”
He said it had not been possible to use the SCES materials “wholly” as they did not meet the statutory requirements of the Curriculum for Excellence in terms of pupil experience, skills and benchmarking – an explanation which Cllr MacLean accepted.
Another official highlighted the process that schools and the Education Department had gone through to develop resources for teaching RSHP in Lewis and Harris primary schools since November 2020, adding that the education authority had a legal duty to “pay regard to official guidance”.
Cllr MacLean said he found what emerged in the form of “learning plans, activity plans, slides etc” to be “littered with references to resources taken straight out of RSHP.scot".
He said: “When councillors voted to support the amendment in 2020, they did not vote for two things – first, for the endorsement of the use of the SCES materials in their entirety. They were to be amended as appropriate.
"Second, they did not vote to have the RSHP materials dominating the materials used in the schools in the Western Isles. The amendment opposed their use. “
Cllr MacLean said the wanted to “commend” Comhairle officers for the way that “some of the very sexualised material” has been taken out of the resources.
But he added “some had remained,” and gave examples to the meeting, including masturbation and sexual intercourse and questioned why these needed to be discussed in lessons for primary age school teaching.
Cllr MacLean also highlighted that contraception was one of the subjects in the lessons in primary schools and again wondered why that needed to be discussed with primary school children, adding that he thought the “teaching abstinence would be better.”
Speaking after the meeting one of the parents present, Rev. Greg MacDonald, of the Cross congregation of the Free Church (Continuing), who has two children, said that he was “happy” with the outcome of the special meeting, “as far as it goes”, and added that he was happy with the outcome of the November 2020 meeting but that had “clearly did not translated into what was actually used in the schools.
“I still have substantial concerns over what schools might still choose to impose. It is clearly not by the will of the council or the will of parents.
"So I still have major concerns about what is actually being taught in schools, and we have evidence of that ourselves.”