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MPs defend faith-based carve-outs for relationships and sex education

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Yesterday a number of MPs defended the rights of English schools to teach the new compulsory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) subject, which includes LGBT issues, in line with their religious views and to ‘take account of’ the religious backgrounds of pupils.

Humanists UK is disappointed to see MPs view children’s rights to a full and inclusive education as secondary to the religious beliefs of their parents or schools. It campaigns for all pupils to receive developmentally and age-appropriate inclusive RSE.

Schools will be required to teach RSE from September 2020, but schools will not be obliged to follow new government guidance on the matter. Further, parents will be able to withdraw their child from the sex education element of RSE, unless there are exceptional circumstances, or up until the child is 15 – although there is no right for parents to withdraw their child from the relationships element, which encompasses LGBT issues.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP stated that the RSE guidance is clear about the importance of LGBT issues, but said the way pupils are taught about these issues is ‘ultimately a matter for teachers in school to decide’ and that schools also ‘have to take into account the faith backgrounds of the pupils and their parents’.

This view was supported by a number of MPs, including Labour Member for East Ham, Stephen Timms, and Conservative Member for Congleton, Fiona Bruce.

The debate took place on the same day as Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education, wrote an article in The Times saying that ‘We have said that LGBT issues should be taught in secondary school but it is left to the judgment of primary school leaders whether it is right to discuss some aspects, such as different types of families, before then.’ That morning, Andrea Leadsom MP, Leader of the House of Commons, also weighed in on the topic during an interview on LBC in which she said ‘I agree that it is right that parents should be able to choose the moment at which their children become exposed to that information.’

These comments and the debate itself were set against the wider background of protests from parents about LGBT lessons in Birmingham, which have now spread to Manchester.

The regulations were not passed by MPs due to objections from Philip Davies MP and will now be put to vote on Wednesday 27 March.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham said:

‘The UK Government must make sure that all English schools teach children comprehensive, age-appropriate and inclusive RSE, which includes education about LGBT issues. It is only if LGBT young people are accepted by their peers that they will be able to grow up healthy, happy, and safe.

‘We will continue campaigning to ensure that all schools must teach in this way, and that every child regardless of their or their parents’ religion or belief is able to access this vital information.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read our previous news item Birmingham schools here: https://humanism.org.uk/2019/03/19/alarming-birmingham-trust-with-five-schools-also-suspends-lgbt-lessons/

For more information on our work on relationships and sex education, visit https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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