C OF E schools should “clearly differentiate between facts and morals” when carrying out the latest state requirements for relationships, sex, and health education (RSHE) in the UK, a new charter states.
The charter was released last month by the C of E’s education office in response to new legislation from the Government which states that, from September 2020, all primary schools will be required to teach relationships and health education. Secondary schools will be required to teach relationships and sex education.
The charter advises church schools to “clearly differentiate between factual teaching (biology, medicine, the law, marriage, different types of families, and the composition of society), and moral teaching about relationships and values, recognising that the distinction can be easily blurred and there needs to be discernment about the manner in which this is taught within a moral (but not moralistic) framework”.
This, it says, must be carried out in “a faith sensitive and inclusive way”, as advised by the Government. Church schools are also encouraged to commit themselves to working closely with parents and carers and delivering the programme with dignity and respect.
The charter commits schools to building “resilience in our pupils to help them form healthy relationships, to keep themselves safe and resist the harmful influence of pornography in all its forms”; to reflect the values of the school, but “not seek[ing] to teach only one moral position”; to meeting special needs and disabilities; and to seeking the views of pupils.
An accompanying statement reads: “The legislation makes it clear that all schools should approach RSHE in a faith sensitive and inclusive way, seeking to explain fairly the tenets and varying interpretations of religious communities on matters of sex and relationships and teach these viewpoints with respect.
“The C of E education office supports the approach taken by the Government, including recommending an age-appropriate provision of sex education at primary level, and is issuing a charter which we hope schools of all foundations, faiths or otherwise, will sign up to as they affirm the broad principles about how RSHE is taught.”
The Church’s lead bishop for education, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, said that the charter and companion resources, which include guidance from the Pastoral Advisory Group, “can help all schools foster an inclusive and faith-sensitive approach to relationships, sex, and health education.
“While delivery of these topics has not been without contention in recent months, children are increasingly at risk of exposure to pornography and other damaging online and real-world interactions, and we must commit to teaching this vital part of the curriculum in a way which affords dignity and shows respect to all. . .
“As all schools must uphold the protected characteristics of the Equalities Act, this charter is not just for Church of England Schools, but can be of value to any school as it seeks to be clear and intentional about a faith-sensitive approach to relationships and sex education.”
The chief executive of Christian Concern, Andrea Minichiello Williams, who is a member of the General Synod, criticised the charter. “The C of E has a God-given opportunity and responsibility to set the culture of its schools in line with the teaching of God found in the Bible,” she said.
“Instead, it consistently capitulates to the spirit of the age as, for example, expressed in statute by the Equality Act. This charter fails to protect teachers, governors, and children who wish to state and uphold the Church’s own teaching on marriage and family.”