Important new data was released by the Evangelical Alliance this week, following a poll by ComRes to test public opinion concerning the role of parents in Relationships and Sex Education. Primary legislation passed in the Children and Social Work Act 2017 stated that parents would not have any right to remove their children from Relationships Education lessons during Primary school years. The DfE has made it very clear that this will not change.
But the public, it seems, thinks very differently about the role of parents. This is what the evidence from the survey says:
• Parents should have access to the content of relationships education lessons in advance – 78%
• Parents should be notified if external organisations are contributing to lessons – 80%
• Parents are the most appropriate people to decide when primary age children should learn about sexual activity and sexual orientation – 65%
• Politicians are the least appropriate group to make the decision about when children should learn about such sensitive issues – 66%
• The curriculum should include learning about family and friendships, how to stay safe online and unsafe contact with strangers – 86%
• Relationships education should respect the diverse religious and cultural backgrounds of children and their families – 71%
It would be a foolish government that did not take note of these kinds of statistics. And yet, in Parliament this week, during answers to education questions, Schools Minister Nick Gibb was happy to give an assurance that Damian Hinds shares his predecessor’s commitment ‘that relationship and sex education lessons must be LGBT inclusive’, which means that politicians will be determining what very young children are taught, regardless of what the majority of parents think.
You have until 12 February to make your views known via the call for evidence. The DfE is particularly keen to hear from parents. You are asked what you think are the three most important aspects of Relationships and Sex Education that should be taught in primary schools and also in secondary schools. You are asked the same about PSHE. You don’t have to answer all of the questions and each question has a 250 word limit. Use the opportunity to tell the government what you don’t want your child to learn, as well as what you do want.
You also have the opportunity to describe how you, as a parent, want to be informed about RSE teaching in your child’s school. This is a chance to insist that you are given advance notice of lessons and are able to view all content. And although the DfE is adamant that the law on withdrawal will not be changed, you can still express your views about it.
The data from the ComRes survey is already being used to draw politicians’ attention to the wishes of the vast majority of the voting public. But a survey isn’t as effective as individual parent voices, so make your voice heard and add it to the growing call for parents, not politicians, to make crucial decisions about what children are taught.
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.