Members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) argued yesterday in favour of introducing statutory Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education, including Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), to all schools, including ‘faith’ schools. The comments came during the House of Lords Committee Stage of the Education Bill, during which amendments to the Bill are introduced and debated.
Unfortunately, the amendment debated would have made PSHE compulsory in schools but with significant opt-outs for ‘faith’ schools, essentially replicating similar proposals last year which the BHA brought to media and political attention. However, APPHG Secretary Baroness Massey of Darwen has joined with former Labour Education Minister Lord Knight to table a further amendment to be debated next week, which would ensure all children received their entitlement to high quality PSHE and SRE, including in ‘faith’ schools.
Peers from all parties argued in favour of making PSHE compulsory, but humanist peers in particular argued against ‘faith’ schools having the ability to opt out of any new requirements:
- Baroness Massey argued that ‘Although ‘faith’’ schools will still be required to teach SRE, they are exempted from teaching it in a balanced way which promotes equity and diversity. The amendment would give ‘faith’ schools the right to allow the tenets of religion to override the principles that must guide the teaching of SRE in other maintained schools. That could lead to narrower teaching… We all have a particular perspective on all sorts of issues. We can make that perspective clear to young people. However, they should be given full and comprehensive education. I am a humanist, but I believe that young people should be taught about different faiths and cultures.’
- British Humanist Association (BHA) Vice President Baroness Turner of Camden agreed: ‘My Lords, I support wholeheartedly what my noble friend Lady Massey has just said, particularly in relation to children learning about different faiths and so on and that being part of general education… I support the feeling behind both amendments, I think that it is right, and I congratulate both noble Baronesses for their commitment to these ideas, which I wholeheartedly support.’
- Baroness Whitaker, also a BHA Vice President, argued, ‘We live in a nation of many cultures and several faiths… These many cultures and several faiths are a huge asset for our culture, understanding of the world, trade, regeneration and enterprise-lots of things-but to realise these assets we need to be at ease with our fellow citizens, to understand their culture and their faith, especially when we do not share it. If we do not have this opportunity in school, we risk losing out culturally and economically but, almost more importantly, we risk increasing bigotry and prejudice.’
BHA Education Campaigns Officer Richy Thompson commented, ‘Evidence shows that good PSHE, including SRE, is vital to the health and well-being of young people. It is for this reason that humanist peers have argued in favour of PSHE being taught in all schools to all children as an entitlement, whether they happen to attend a ‘faith’ school or an inclusive school. The BHA has been working closely with our supporters in parliament and next week peers will debate an amendment to introduce compulsory PSHE and SRE, with no pernicious opt-out for ‘faith’ schools.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.