A group of Conservative MPs, as well as some from Labour and other parties, has proposed making Relationships Education a compulsory subject in English schools, meaning that from September schools could be required to teach children about issues such as sexual harassment, consent, healthy relationships, and pornography for the first time.
The proposals, spearheaded by Women and Equalities Select Committee Chair Maria Miller MP, are contained within an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, currently awaiting report stage in the House of Commons, and seek to supercede a similar but more comprehensive amendment to the Bill introduced by Labour MP Stella Creasy last month. One further amendment has also been tabled by the same MPs, extending the current, long-standing, but very limited sex education requirements placed on maintained schools to mainstream academies and free schools too. The amendments are due to be voted on in the next few weeks, with the Government suggesting that it may yet move to bring forward its own amendment(s) to the Bill in due course.
Recent months and years have seen an increasing number of calls for Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) to be made statutory in schools, with recommendations to that effect having now been made by six parliamentary select committees, a coalition of more than 100 education and children’s rights charities, and an overwhelming majority of teachers, parents, and children alike.
These calls were bolstered last month after the British Humanist Association (BHA) published a major report revealing that SRE was being almost totally neglected in school inspections, with only 1% of Ofsted reports containing explicit mention of the subject. The findings served to dispel the claim that making SRE compulsory in schools is unnecessary given that Ofsted effectively ensures it is being taught through its inspections.
Concerns around the Conservative MPs’ proposals do exist, however. The amendment refers only to Relationships Education, for instance, rather than Sex and Relationships Education, a detail that could lead to important content around sexual health and safe sex being ignored by schools. The fact that sex education is proffered as a separate subject could also lead to confusion, as could the lack of any mention of the rest of Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education (PSHE), of which SRE is generally seen to be a part. More concerningly, the amendment further states that schools must ensure that children are ‘protected from teaching and materials which are inappropriate having regard to the age and religious background of the pupils concerned’, leading to suggestions from campaigners, including the BHA, that the law could give some schools the option of not being LGBT-inclusive in their teaching.
BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘After decades of campaigning for statutory Sex and Relationships Education in schools, we are glad that parliamentarians from all parties are starting to recognise just how important it is that children and young people have access to this kind of information.
‘The amendment that has been tabled by Conservative MPs is a step in the right direction, and we welcome its tabling. But we are concerned that it misses some important areas of the subject and may well lead to confusion as to what is and is not required of schools. We will continue to work to ensure that the measures that do become law are in the very best interests of every child’s safety and wellbeing, and we urge the Government to bring forward its own proposals for comprehensive, high-quality, and fully inclusive SRE as soon as possible.’
For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigner Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7324 3078.
Read all the amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill: https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2016-2017/0121/amend/children_rm_rep_0207.pdf
Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Major new BHA report: school inspections ‘almost totally neglect’ PSHE and SRE: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/01/27/major-new-bha-report-school-inspections-almost-totally-neglect-pshe-and-sre/
Read the BHA’s full report Healthy, happy, safe? An investigation into how PSHE and SRE are inspected in schools: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-01-25-FINAL-Healthy-Happy-Safe.pdf
Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Government in plans to make SRE compulsory in all schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/12/18/government-in-plans-to-make-sre-compulsory-in-all-schools-and-to-scrap-parental-opt-out/
Read more about the BHA’s work on PSHE and SRE: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.