DRAFT proposals to overhaul the way in which sex education is taught in schools in the UK “may lead to stereotyping and prejudice” of religion and religious views on sex and relationships.
This was one of several issues identified by the Church in England Education Office in its official response to a government consultation on draft guidance for Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education, which closed last week.
The response warns that, besides having equal respect for “stable and healthy” same-sex relationships, the guidance should also have “equal respect for faith-based or other conscientious positions” on same-sex and other relationships.
Instead, the guidance “problematises religion”, and makes exceptions for people of faith “in a way that may lead to stereotyping and prejudice”, it says. “Under the Equality Act, both sexuality and faith and belief are protected characteristics, and both should be taken into account equally in formulating policy.”
The government guidance states: “In schools with a religious character, the distinctive faith perspective on relations may be taught, and a balanced debate may take place about issues that are seen as contentious. . . Schools without a religious character may also wish to introduce pupils to different faith perspectives.”
This is problematic, the Education Office says, because it “stereotypes community schools as secular, which is not their status. . . We welcome the principle that schools with a religious character are enabled to include distinctive faith perspectives, and fully support the importance of providing opportunity to discuss controversial issues in a balanced way. We are, however, at a loss to understand why this is not also part of RSE in schools without a religious character.”
The chief education officer for the C of E, the Revd Nigel Genders, said that the wording risked “ghettoising” faith perspectives on relationships.
“Our principal focus has been to ensure that mainstream views held by people of faith are welcomed and understood. We are concerned that, although the draft guidance makes it clear that schools of a faith character may teach faith perspectives within RSE, it seems to indicate that other schools would only cover this within the subject area of RE.
“We believe that there is a risk here of ghettoising faith perspectives on relationships, wrongly suggesting that they are only relevant to pupils attending schools of a religious character. This, we believe, serves to problematise religion rather than giving children and young people the skills and knowledge they need for life in pluralistic communities with diverse belief, faith, religion, and culture.”
The Church was also “disappointed” that guidance on Personal Social and Health Education, as well as financial education in schools, had not also been made statutory. Its response states: “We do not consider the current provision in maths and citizenship are enough to ensure that pupils are properly prepared to navigate their way in our economy, and we fear that this will result in many pupils’ leaving school economically illiterate.
“Family debt issues have a big impact on relationships and on mental and, potentially, physical health. We feel this is a missed opportunity.”
Mr Genders was, however, pleased that much of the Church’s response to the Government’s proposed overhaul of relationships and sex education, in March, had been included in the latest draft guidance.
“Our priority remains supporting children and young people in developing positive relationships, helping them gain the resilience needed to avoid harmful relationships, and equipping them to deal with the things that undermine their self-esteem and identity,” he said.
“We have welcomed much of what has been proposed, such as the inclusion of health education, and the need to show respect for LGBTI+ people, and to teach about sexual orientation in the secondary phase.”