THERE should be a “shared duty of care” between schools and families when it comes to relationship and sex education, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, has said.
Writing in Tes (formerly the Times Education Supplement) this week, Bishop Conway said: “I hope and pray that schools, families and carers will work together to recognise the complementary contributions of each in enabling children to navigate safely growing up in the digital age, and ensuring they develop the skills they need to flourish in healthy relationships throughout their lives.”
The House of Lords was due to vote on new sex-education guidance this week.
Bishop Conway, who is lead bishop for education, wrote: “The new guidance is about promoting healthy resilient relationships set in the context of character and virtue development, with a focus on respecting others, including the beliefs and practices of people with a specific faith commitment, as well as those from the many different types of families that make up our cultural context.”
Last year, the Church’s Education Office warned that draft proposals to overhaul the sex-education curriculum “may lead to stereotyping and prejudice” of religion and religious views on sex and relationships (News, 16 November 2018).
Its response to the proposals said 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.
In his Tes article, Bishop Conway wrote: “This new legislation has been formed over two years by the Government. The Church of England, as the biggest single education provider in the country, has been among the parties engaged in the consultation. We have been robust where necessary, and we feel both that the consultation has been genuine, and that the Government deserves to be congratulated for the finished product.”
He went on: “It makes explicit a shared duty of care between parents and schools, and that what takes place in the classroom builds on what has been taught in the home. . .
“It maintains the need for schools to consult their parental community in developing the curriculum, with parents ultimately having the right to excuse their children from sex education if they wish. Our hope is that they will not do so, but this must none the less remain an option in order to honour legitimately-held positions of concern.
“While there should be no room for any form of discrimination, the mark of a genuinely plural society is respect for differing, sincerely held views, whether about marriage or about other patterns of relationship which are societal norms today.”
Schools will be able to adopt the new guidance from the start of the new academic year, before it becomes a legal requirement in 2020.