It can hardly have escaped your notice that, after sustained and prolonged pressure from lobby groups, the government is overhauling the Sex and Relationships Education guidance which has been in effect since 2000. The argument is that the document needs updating, as society has moved on in the last 17 years and the guidance is woefully inadequate. What has also been called for, which these lobby groups have successfully acquired, is statutory status for a new subject of Relationships Education, which at secondary level will become Relationships and Sex Education. So, apart from the title of the subject and its new statutory status, what has changed?

The most significant piece of legislation since 2000 is the Equality Act 2010, which is rapidly becoming the most wilfully misused statute in our social history. It is, of course, the outcome of a government’s attempt to reconcile the ever-louder rants of individuals who group by self-interest and the fracturing of governance along the fault lines of identity politics. The concept of ‘self’ dominates, the liberal elite has a totalitarian hold on the media as well as much of government, and the concept of common good is alien to most of the body politic.

As a result, the Independent School Standards, hotly disputed when they were introduced in 2014, require independent schools to actively promote same-sex relationships and marriage. There is, of course, a world of difference between teaching the law of the land on same-sex marriage and its active promotion, but schools are judged by Ofsted on the latter, justified by the need to adhere to a singular, flawed interpretation of the Equality Act. The Act protects certain groups of people from unfair treatment: it does not require active promotion of an ideology. If we returned to the first principles of a fair society, there would be no need for an Equality Act.

Take the programme Educate and Celebrate, produced with lavish amounts of tax payers’ money and designed to deliver same-sex indoctrination through Literacy and music, so that parents have no access to the materials and may never know what their children are being taught. This, too, is the product of a wilful distortion of the Equality Act. Where are the equivalent amounts of money to produce similarly glossy programmes for faith, disability and race?

The core motive stated by the government for changes to the RSE curriculum rests in the need to support young people as they ‘prepare for life in modern Britain’. This is a world where children are sexualised at ever younger ages; where adults indulge their own desire for fulfilment at the expense of family stability; where groomed and exploited children (and their parents) cannot expect protection from public services, and where abuse seeps into the fabric of our social structures at every level.

It has created a moral vacuum which all kinds of lobby groups are exploiting, not least those calling for graphic sex education, teaching about gender fluidity, and the acceptability of different kinds of (unspecified) relationship. The current guidance labours heavily on the concept of safety, to the point where proposals start to read like a self-defence manual. It’s the outcome of a prevalent view that schools can solve every social evil. Teach children to spot an abuser; teach young people to understand consent, and ‘make young people understand what attitudes lie behind the words that they use’ and all will be well with future society.

And this is where the 2000 guidance is very different because it talks about first principles in relationships – individual conscience; moral considerations; the value of family life; marriage and stable and loving relationships for the nurture of children, and the value of respect, love and care.

It talks, too, about first principles in personal and social skills – learning to manage emotions and relationships confidently and sensitively; developing self-respect and empathy for others; learning to make choices based on an understanding of difference and with an absence of prejudice; developing an appreciation of the consequences of choices made; managing conflict; and learning how to recognise and avoid exploitation and abuse.

It is not about a safety manual for navigating the moral vacuum that is modern Britain. It is about teaching children and young people to respond to those around them with care, consideration and understanding. It returns to first principles, expressed within a moral framework.

The Department for Education is currently conducting a call for evidence, which is your opportunity to say what you want to see in the new policy. Current guidance states that: ‘Governing bodies and head teachers should consult parents in developing their sex and relationship education policy to ensure that they develop policies which reflect parents’ wishes and the culture of the community they serve.’

Argue for this, and against the imposition of a centralised curriculum. And then, when your child’s school starts to prepare for the implementation of the new policy, work to ensure that it is delivered not as the moral vacuum of a safety manual, but within a moral framework which returns to first principles of relationship.



Damian Hinds was appointed as the Secretary of State for Education last week. The smouldering debate over faith schools also flared into flames again last week. The connection? Damian Hinds is a Catholic.

It took Humanists UK, outraged at the appointment of a person of faith to public office, less than 24 hours to get an article in the media claiming that the Catholic church, by supporting an intern, was guilty of ‘pernicious and deeply inappropriate political lobbying’ and that Damian Hinds was guilty of a conflict of interest.

It was a ludicrous claim, easily dismissed and widely ridiculed on social media. A range of organisations pay for interns to gain invaluable experience of political work: it is quite proper for the Catholic church to support a Catholic graduate to work alongside a Catholic MP. Damian Hinds followed protocol and declared the payment in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. So what is Humanists UK’s problem? Simply that Hinds is a Catholic. They can’t say so, of course, because that would breach the Equality Act.

The urgent concern of Humanists UK is that Damian Hinds might remove the 50% cap on faith school admissions, which currently prevents the Catholic church from opening any free schools. The cap removal was promised in the Conservative manifesto at the last election, but the pledge was broken soon after the Conservative government was re-elected and that was pretty much how opponents of faith education liked it. A consideration of the facts might help them to understand why lifting the cap could be a good thing.

The Catholic church would open between 30 and 40 new free schools if the cap was removed, creating between 15,000 and 20,000 new places. The growth of Catholic populations in some areas of the country, as a result of immigration, is considerable. A free school can only be opened where there is proven need and the pressure on places clearly demonstrates an urgent need. For the government this is much less about Catholic education than about not having to foot the bill for building new schools or finding 20,000 additional places in already overcrowded schools.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone, except those implacably opposed to faith education who are never going to send their children to these schools anyway. But because they don’t want them, they insist that nobody else should want them either. The arguments, of course, have to be political, because the Equality Act prevents them from opposition purely on the grounds of faith. So this is how their arguments run.

Faith schools create silos of segregation. The case of Northern Ireland is sometimes quoted in this argument. Except, of course, English society is not divided along sectarian lines and all schools are reflections of the communities they serve. Anyone accusing a village school serving farming communities, or a school teaching children from military families, of social segregation would be laughed at. Yet somehow it’s fine to level the accusation when it comes to faith.

Church schools proselytise and indoctrinate the next generation of society. Well, if that were true, churches would be full to overflowing every Sunday. Empty pews and falling attendance numbers in many churches show that young people are making up their own minds about faith and voting with their feet.

Faith schools unfairly take tax payers’ money. Parents of faith pay tax, too. In addition, their churches provide financial input to their schools which the government could simply not sustain from public funds.

Church schools bias their admissions in favour of middle class parents with sharp elbows. Read the Catholic Education Service’s recent census, which shows beyond dispute that Catholic schools serve some of the most disadvantaged children in society. Examine the figures for Church of England schools that faithfully serve the communities in which they are located regardless of social status. Of course there are parents who subvert admissions procedures in order to get their children into the school of their choice. But how is that any different from parents who move house in order to do exactly the same?

All these weary arguments will, no doubt, be given another media airing over the next few weeks. As a Christian, I find it encouraging that we have a religiously literate Secretary of State, in an age when rampant religious illiteracy roams the corridors of power at will. Instead of an Education Secretary who tells the church that it needs to get in line with modern attitudes on LGBT ideology, we hopefully have one who understands that churches’ teaching on marriage and identity is derived from the Bible, not public opinion.

The problem for opponents of Damian Hinds’ appointment is, of course, that they object to the presence of faith in the public square in any shape or form. An Education Secretary with faith raises the very real possibility that secular, liberal apologists will have to make space for the voice of faith to speak, too. Having worked so hard for so long to silence it, that must be a daunting prospect.

But here’s the most important point that the faith opposition lobby has to understand – they live in a democracy. The Department of Education loves faith schools. They said so this week in a statement: ‘We want to go further to ensure all young people have access to a good school place and we are keen for faith groups to play a key role in this. Many faith schools are high-performing and are more likely to be rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted than non-faith schools.’ A third of all children in this country are educated in church schools, and many more who apply are unable to get a place.

So the government loves church schools and needs church money. Hundreds of thousands of parents (even those of no faith) love church schools because of the quality of holistic education that they offer.

It looks like opponents are tilting at windmills.


The safeguarding bandwagon in relation to home education rolled on throughout the Christmas break. Wales announced  consultation on compulsory registration – the significance of which was missed by the national media. Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted’s National Director of Social Care, published an article on more effective safeguarding for home educated children – a thinly veiled attempt to coerce the government to agree to compulsory registration, which hung in the ether and appeared to have no purpose.

Hackney Council was next to jump on the bandwagon, publishing an article on unregistered educational settings (UES) in its borough. The report focuses exclusively on Jewish yeshivas and laments the lack of government urgency in introducing compulsory registration and in giving local authorities powers to inspect home education. The argument goes that because these settings are unregistered, they constitute home education and all home educators must therefore be controlled. Having no education expertise but never a lobby group to miss an opportunity, Humanists UK weighed in, contributing to the report and adding to calls to control Jewish education. They took much of the credit for the Hackney report, presenting themselves as leaders of the national campaign against religious schools and, in passing, accusing Jewish schools of child abuse.

Why is the bandwagon gathering such momentum? Probably because those who want complete control of every child in the country under the guise of safeguarding sense that they may be losing the argument. In a written answer, Lord Agnew (who recently replaced Lord Nash as Under-Secretary of State for Education) not only says that there will be no new legislative powers, he uses Amanda Spielman’s own comments on Ofsted’s success in dealing with UES to prove that existing legislation is effective. He even states that there are far fewer unregistered schools than at first estimated. That’s not what supporters of Lord Soley’s private members bill wanted to hear.

Lord Soley’s bill aims to tighten controls on home education; it received its second reading in November. Adopting a warm, avuncular tone, Lord Soley says he wants to help home educators, as they are a much neglected group, often unsupported and with unacknowledged needs. That’s the warm, cuddly bit.

The truth is a little more ominous. He wants to balance the rights of the child against the rights of the parents, even though home educating parents are discharging their duty and responsibility, not exercising their rights. In his speech, he thanks local authorities, two in particular, for their help in preparing the bill. And an FOI request to one of those authorities reveals, via transcribed emails, what that help actually looks like.

On the elective home education (EHE) lobby: ‘You are correct the EHE lobby is mobilising – already FOI requests…asking for copies of all emails between officers and yourself.’

 On what they want to achieve: ‘gov view is that LA’s need to stretch the guidance and they want case law to be tested’…’ Problem is that this needs to be communicated to EHE community’.‘That’s basically the trouble with all of this. Too much relies on parental permission’. ‘The core issues then are to establish clear statutory access to the children and having full details of all EHE’s’. ‘Hopefully our collective efforts will influence the DfE’s thinking’.

 On removing the words ‘emotional and physical development’ from the proposed wording in order to get legislation past the home ed lobby: ‘the starting point is to get access to educational provision. Looking at provision is firmer ground than trying to tackle emotional development’, ‘words “physical and emotional” could be left out not least because this will distract and allow the EHE lobby to be critical. The important issue is the duty to monitor the child’s “educational’ development”’ ‘Once EHE professionals are under duty to monitor the “educational’ development” of the child by a visit to the home and a discussion with the parent and child, they will be in a better position to detect any safeguarding issues’ ‘the starting point is to get access to educational provision. Looking at provision is firmer ground than trying to tackle emotional development’

 Lord Soley’s concern over the possible role of Lord Agnew: I understand the new Minister is S T A [Sir Theo Agnew] – is that correct? The other problem here is the position of the new minister on this issue. If he is still sympathetic to co-operating with me on getting the Bill into a form that satisfies the Government and myself then obviously I will try and involve the Department at all stages. If there is not a willingness to co-operate then I will have to reconsider how I handle the Bill. Any ideas about this?

On sanctions for non-compliant parents: Where a new statutory duty is created it is usual and good practice to create a sanction for non-compliance with the duty…[include] a provision that makes clear that where a parent fails to register a Local Authority may take this into account in determining whether to issue a notice under the Education Act 1996…case law has established that “if parents refuse to answer it could very easily conclude that prima facie the parents were in breach of their duty”.’

Lord Soley ends one email by saying that he needs to work out ‘how best to enlist public support as the opposition is now growing’. Oddly, I thought that was what living in democracy meant – legislation can be both proposed and opposed. Clearly he has temporarily lost sight of how democracy works.

He also observes that opposition is ‘still far less than it was some years ago’. Watch this space, Lord Soley and make no assumptions about using your power to get ‘clear statutory access’ to other people’s children. Parents are the guardians of their children’s welfare, not the state.