The media clamour for compulsory SRE has reached the point of hysteria in the last few days, with one report even claiming that without it, women will become infertile. SRE provision is being blamed for everything from body shaming and mental ill-health, to child abuse and grooming. So, how did we get here? Should schools be solely responsible for addressing the problems that society faces as a result of total sexual freedom? And is it the role of democratic government to impose statutory regulation on the teaching of moral issues, regardless of a school’s ethos?
Historically, sex education was restricted to biology: human reproduction is still part of the science curriculum and is therefore statutory for all pupils. During the 1990s, sex education also became part of the PSHE programme; although PSHE has no prescribed content, it must form part of school curriculum provision. By 2010, the concept of relationships education had entered the arena and, completely ignoring the roles and responsibilities of parents, the DfE was stating that ‘children need high-quality SRE so they can make wise and informed choices’. Then the lobbying began in earnest, with women’s groups and LGBTQI+ activists among the most vociferous callers not just for statutory SRE provision, but for a centrally imposed curriculum with no parental opt out. It’s all about control – seize central control and remove parents from the loop, then you can influence whatever brand of propaganda you wish to be imposed on children and young people.
It’s no longer about the biology of reproduction, or about how to behave in a relationship, but about how young people should feel about sex. It’s no longer about how to stay physically safe and avoid pregnancy, but about how to stay emotionally safe and avoid getting harmed by your choices. Consent has become a twisted form of risk assessment, to be conducted before you embark on a physical activity: SRE teaching has become a matter of self-defence and safeguarding. As Ofsted determined, SRE should ‘promote equality in relationships and emphasise the importance of seeking and gaining mutual consent through positive and active communication’. Saying no isn’t enough – people must be taught to mediate consent.
This week’s media hype is probably due, in no small part, to NC5 – an amendment clause in the Children and Social Work Bill that is currently going through Parliament. If it becomes law, some very significant rights will be protected.
Successive governments have procrastinated on SRE policy revision, but it is widely expected that when the DfE finally acts, it will impose a centrally designed curriculum with no right of parental opt-out and consultation, or consideration of religious belief. Activists have taken advantage of the delay, using the media to build up a head of steam. As a result, the majority of parents and students themselves are now calling for high quality SRE, so the DfE can finally move with impunity, even though parents and students have little idea of the likely implication of their wishes when shaped into policy.
The NC5 amendment was designed to pre-empt that by protecting parental opt-out (except where Sex Ed is already part of the statutory science curriculum), to enforce parental consultation and to protect religious belief. It effectively ties the hands of the liberal lobby as they can no longer dominate central policy. ‘Consultation’ could be anything from parents being able to view materials (the current situation) to parents being involved in policy formation, curriculum content and resourcing (one model the DfE has considered as part of its best practice study). The amendment is also designed to make the building of strong, lasting relationships part of SRE. It’s a positive view of relationships that is lacking in any other proposals.
So that is how we got here. But what about the role of schools? Schools have always been good places for the delivery of centralised messages, as MP Diana Johnson acknowledged when presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill on the issue of compulsory SRE in October 2014. She stated:
‘of course we want parents and families to be part of the discussions with youngsters about relationships and keeping safe, but … leaving it to parents, which is the current approach and the approach of decades past, is not working, it’s failing and it isn’t fit for the challenges of the future.’
Some parents don’t accept their responsibilities, but the solution is not to remove control from those parents who do, and who feel strongly about what their children are taught concerning relationships, identity and morality. Removing parental rights of opt-out and consultation is a denial of an essential freedom. The idea has little to do with feckless parents and everything to do with finding an excuse to enforce conformity to the liberal agenda.
For Christian schools and parents, the concept of an ‘anything goes’ SRE curriculum in which they have no say is alarming. The Bible teaches that sex is a gift from God, to be enjoyed between a man and a woman within marriage. It teaches that relationships are about building one another up in loving and supportive partnerships. The Bible also teaches that parents are responsible for their children’s education. So if NC5 allows parents to continue to do just that, using the Bible as their guide in raising their children to live in relationship with God, then the amendment is to be welcomed for ensuring that parents are included.