Children's campaigners deplore new religious opt-out on sex and relationships education

By staff writers
February 18, 2010

The Children's Rights Alliance for England have condemned a new Government amendment to its own Children, Schools and Families Bill, describing its restrictions on sex education as discriminatory.

The amendment to the Bill, tabled by the Secretary of State Ed Balls, would permit state-funded faith schools to teach PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education), which includes Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), in a limited way, emphasising only their own perspectives.

Carolyne Willow, National coordinator of the Children's Rights Alliance for England, commented: "This amendment was completely unnecessary as there is already provision in the Bill for PSHE to take into account different perspectives, including religious beliefs. It is absolutely vital that sex and relationships education funded by the State occurs within the context of commitment to equality and respect for diversity; anything less is discriminatory."

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, added: "The Government’s amendment to the Children, Schools and Families Bill effectively provides an opt-out for faith schools from teaching full, comprehensive and objective Sex and Relationships Education. This is a U-Turn from the original commitment in the Bill which put a duty on schools to teach SRE in ways that promote equality, diversity and rights, in ways that are sensitive to the children’s backgrounds, rather than the school's."

He continued: "By attempting to alter its own Bill in this way, the Government is going against what parents, young people and experts want, trading children’s rights for the support of a minority religious lobby. This, together with allowing parents to take their children out of SRE lessons altogether, will undoubtedly have a grossly negative impact on those vulnerable young people who need comprehensive SRE from a young age most."

Experts say good SRE is known to reduce unwanted pregnancies, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections, and equip young people with the language and tools to be clear about personal boundaries, understand appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, to be able to resist pressure assertively and to know who to talk to and how to ask for help if and when they need it.

It helps older children to resist pressure, make safe choices and be able to challenge and be critical of misleading and inappropriate messages about sex in the media.

The inclusive schools coalition, Accord, which has both religious and non-religious groups and individuals in its membership, has also backed the idea that all children should receive a balanced and complete education on sex and relationships.


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