RSE – Why should we be concerned?

That it is the responsibility of parents to bring up and teach their children is a principle that is clearly set out in the Bible, and one that is important to family life and society. We are exhorted to ‘train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’ (Proverbs 22:6)

In addition, Protocol 1 Article 2 in the European Convention of Human Rights (1950) states that “No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”. This right was incorporated into English law by the Human Rights Act 1998.

Previous Guidance

The Sex and Relationship Education Guidance 2000 (DfEE 0116/2000) recognised the importance of parents in teaching their children about sex and relationship; maintaining the culture and ethos of the family; helping their children cope with the emotional and physical aspects of growing up; and preparing them for the challenges and responsibilities that sexual maturity brings. In addition, parents clearly had the right to withdraw their children from all or part of the sex and relationship education provided at school except for those parts included in the statutory National Curriculum.

Within the Guidance 2000; sex and relationship education was identified as “lifelong learning about physical, moral and emotional development. It is about the understanding of the importance of marriage for family life, stable and loving relationships, respect, love and care. It is also about the teaching of sex, sexuality, and sexual health. It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity – this would be inappropriate teaching.

This was underpinned by three main elements:

  • Attitudes and values;
  • Personal and social skills;
  • nowledge and understanding.

The emphasis being very much on the value of family life, marriage and stable and loving relationships for the nurture of children together with an emphasis on sexual health.

Updated Guidance

Sadly, the Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education Draft statutory guidance published in February 2019 that will, if ratified, replace the Guidance 2000 and fundamentally change the way sex and relationship education is delivered at both primary and secondary. This guidance is due to be introduced in September 2020, although once it is ratified then schools will be free to use the guidance prior to this date.

Why Should I Be Concerned?

You may be thinking, why should I as a Christian be concerned about these things?

Here are a few pointers.

  • The draft statutory guidance (February 2019) addresses many topics that we believe are the prerogative of parents. The use of terminology such as ‘age-appropriate’, within the guidance, raises questions as to who will determine this. We believe that parents are those best placed to define what is age-appropriate.
  • We are concerned that children will be exposed to teaching that promotes a positive view of non-traditional “families” together with teaching around relationships and sexual identities that are contrary to the teaching of the Bible.
  • We believe the purpose of education is to impart the knowledge and skills children need to equip them for life through the training and development of their minds together with teaching them to read, write and reason, while passing on the knowledge, lessons and achievements of those who have gone before. The draft statutory guidance (2019) will expose children to alternative lifestyles (with associated sexual behaviours) that are contrary to Christian beliefs and teaching.
  • There does not seem to be a full recognition in the draft statutory guidance (2019) that religion or belief is a protected characteristic within the Equality Act 2010. Within the draft regulatory guidance (2019) there appears to be emphasis on the protected characteristics of gender reassignment and/or sexual orientation. Whereas in law, all the protected characteristics are of equal force and merit and should be asserted as such. (Note: CViE does not in any way condone those protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010 that are contrary to the teaching of the Bible.)
  • CViE is also concerned that the right to withdraw children from sex and relationship education within the draft statutory guidance (2019) are an erosion of the fundamental rights of parental responsibility for the education of their children. At primary level, parents will have the right to withdraw their children from sex education however this will not apply to relationship education. Our concern is that there are elements relationship education, for example different lifestyles and behaviours within these lifestyles that Christian parents may be concerned about and yet no right of withdrawal.
  • At secondary level, the right to withdraw is now a right to request that their children be withdrawn from some or of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE. This will involve meeting and discussing the parents request with the headteacher. The draft statutory guidance (2019) states “once these discussions have taken place, except in exceptional circumstances, the school should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child, to and until three terms before the child turns 16. CViE are concerned about the erosion of the parental right to withdraw together with the invidious position that headteachers will be placed in and the lack of any definition of what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Response to Consultation

CViE would encourage you to take time to read its response to the consultation on the Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education draft regulations that were published in July 2018 and responses submitted in November 2018. The CViE response provides more detail to the points made above and can be downloaded here.

Interestingly the response to this consultation was published in February 2019 and the Government’s response document can be found by clicking here. Within this document there was a summary of responses to the various questions asked during the consultation.

  • The question was asked “Do you agree that the content of Relationship Education in paragraphs 50-57 of the guidance is age-appropriate for primary schools?” Then 58% of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed; 12% neither agreed or disagreed; and 31% either strongly agreed or agreed.
  • For the question relating to secondary schools, then 64% of the respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the question; 12% neither agreed or disagreed; and 24% either strongly agreed or agreed. Despite this feedback, there was no significant changes made to the draft statutory guidance (2019).
  • In response to the question “Do you agree that paragraphs 36-46 on the right to withdraw provide sufficient clarity and advice to schools in order for them to meet the legal requirements?” Then 54% of the respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed; 12% neither agreed or disagreed; and 34% either strongly agreed or agreed. Again, this feedback does not appear to have been recognised in the draft statutory guidance (2019).

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