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Government fails to condemn ‘rape culture’ RSE resource used in Catholic schools

The UK and Welsh Governments have failed to condemn an RSE resource saying that men were ‘created to initiate sexual relationships’ and women to be ‘receiver-responders’, with the UK Government saying they don’t want to get involved in commenting on individual resources. The Catholic Education Service (CES), which oversees Catholic schools in England and Wales, has similarly declined to condemn the resource, simply saying instead that it does not endorse it, while the Archdiocese of Cardiff, which helped develop it, has actively promoted it. Humanists UK believes the resource should be banned as it promotes dangerously misogynistic attitudes that ‘feed into a harmful rape culture’.

The faith-based resource, called A Fertile Heart, was first exposed by Humanists UK in January and is taught in schools across England and Wales. It was produced by a group of priests from the dioceses of Birmingham, Cardiff, Clifton, and Shrewsbury, and the Archdiocese of Cardiff currently directs the resource to be used to teach RSE in all of its schools, some of which are in England. It is also taught in schools in Derbyshire.

In a Year 10 (age 14-15) lesson A Fertile Heart teaches that ‘masculinity is more about initiating… and femininity is more about receiving’. This theme is developed in a lesson on ‘sexual bonding’ where hormones are cited as a biological reason that women ‘find it more difficult to enter uncommitted sexual relationships’ and ‘are prone to suffer mentally and emotionally if sexual relationships fail.’ The lesson summary states that these biological arguments show that ‘man has been created to be the initiator in sexual relationships and woman the receiver-responder’.

Elsewhere, the programme also teaches that the contraceptive pill is dangerous, uses a video resource that likens same-sex marriage to polygamy, and argues that gay and lesbian people cannot legitimately marry and so must entirely abstain from sex.

In January, Humanists UK alerted the UK and Welsh Governments to the resource, but the UK Government initially declined to condemn it on the basis that they do not comment on individual resources. After asking if that was true even where the resource leads to safeguarding concerns, the UK Government committed to considering the matter further, but two months later is still yet to intervene. Indeed, in response to a parliamentary question about whether A Fertile Heart was permitted to be used in English schools, Education Minister Nick Gibb said only, ‘it is for schools to decide which resources they choose to support the teaching of RSHE’. Humanists UK also raised with the UK Department for Education and Ofsted particular safeguarding concerns about one school known to be using the resource, only to be told that such issues should first go through the school’s internal complaints processes.

The Welsh Senedd recently passed a Bill that will see all pupils aged 3-16 taught inclusive, fact-based RSE regardless of the type of school they attend. However, the Welsh Government has yet to make a statement on whether it believes A Fertile Heart is a suitable resource for teaching the subject.

A Fertile Heart has been openly criticised by Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding Jess Phillips, who is working with Humanists UK on the matter. She called it ‘totally unacceptable’ and said ‘to suggest a passive role for women in anything but especially regarding sexuality is dangerous, it is the culture that ends in gross levels of sexual violence’.

Nevertheless, just this week, the resource was defended by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cardiff on the grounds it ‘authentically reflects Catholic teaching’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

A Fertile Heart is not only riddled with misogyny and homophobia, which it often attempts to justify by appeal to half-truths and pseudoscience, but it exemplifies the kind of dangerous attitudes to relationships that feed into a harmful rape culture. As the recent slew of reports about sexual assault in schools illustrate, this is a huge societal problem.

‘If the UK and Welsh Governments are serious about tackling violence against women and girls they must take urgent action to ban this resource. What’s more, faith-based carve-outs to RSE in England, which allow important content on sex and relationships to be distorted by appeal to religious prejudices, must be abolished ’

Last week, Jess Phillips tabled written Parliamentary questions asking Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson what steps he is taking ‘to prevent misogynistic and homophobic relationships and sex education (RSE) resources from being used in schools’ and ‘what assessment he has made of the appropriateness of the language in RSE teaching resources in terms of references to gender roles’. Mr Williamson is due to respond in mid-April.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read our most recent article on the Catholic Archdiocese saying A Fertile Heart authentically reflects Catholic teaching.

See a sample of resources from A Fertile Heart: Receiving and Giving Creative Love

Read our original exposé on A Fertile Heart.

Read more about our work on relationships and sex education.

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