A vital task for all schools is the moral education of children, which includes the encouragement of understanding and respect between different groups in society. In England, this means that as part of a broader curriculum including RE and Citizenship, we believe Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, which includes Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), has an important role to play. In Wales, we hold the same views, but with respect to Personal and Social Education (PSE) and SRE, as the equivalent subjects are known. In Northern Ireland the equivalent subjects are PSHE and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE).
We unequivocally support making PSHE (or PSE/SRE) a statutory part of the curriculum, and believe that the religious character of a school should not deprive children of their entitlement to good PSHE. We believe that the right of children to PSHE is more important than any other consideration and consequently that any right of parental withdrawal (as is currently the case for sex education) should cease.
Under the Coalition Government we have been working in favour of strengthening PSHE and SRE in England through the UK Government’s PSHE Review, and were disappointed that the outcome of that review was that there will be no change. However, we’re pleased that the Government backed new supplementary guidance on SRE. We have also been calling for strengthened PSE and SRE as part of the Welsh Government’s review of the Curriculum for Wales.
Sex and Relationships Education
Good quality, age-appropriate Sex and Relationships Education is vital. It is known to reduce unwanted pregnancies, to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and equip young people with the language and tools to be clear about personal boundaries and understand appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, to be able to resist pressure assertively and to know whom to talk to and how to ask for help if and when they need it. It helps older children resist pressure, make safe choices, and be able to challenge and be critical of misleading and inappropriate messages about sex in the media and in easily available internet pornography. National and international research shows that young people who have had good SRE are more likely to delay having sex for the first time. When they do have sex they are more likely to use condoms and contraception.
We believe that all children are entitled to full, accurate and age-appropriate SRE, including education about forming and maintaining rewarding relationships and unbiased information on contraception, STIs, abortion, sexual orientation, and the many forms of family relationship conducive to individual fulfilment and the stability of society.
Despite the obvious public health and child rights imperative for SRE, the current situation is that maintained schools do not have to teach any SRE beyond basic information on puberty, anatomy and human reproduction found in the Science national curriculum. Maintained secondary schools must also teach about HIV and AIDS. However, Academies and Free Schools do not have to teach any of this. And parents are entitled to withdraw their children from all aspects of SRE not found in the Science national curriculum. As a consequence, SRE provision is patchy across schools, and the standards and scope vary widely between schools.
Our firm belief that all children are entitled to essential basic information about human reproduction and physiology in science and to broader and comprehensive SRE elsewhere in the curriculum means that we want it taught as a compulsory subject in all schools from primary age, with no parental opt out.
What we’re doing
Humanists UK is a longstanding member of the Sex Education Forum (SEF) and of the PSHE Association, and we recommend both organisations’ work to teachers, school managers and governors. Humanists UK’s Campaigns Manager also sits on SEF’s advisory group.
Prior to the 2010 General Election, we were supportive of the then-Labour Government’s plans to place PSHE on the National Curriculum, and were bitterly disappointed when those plans were later dropped as the Children, Schools and Families Act was not passed until the wash-up period right before the election.
Since then, we worked with peers to introduce amendments to the Education Act 2011 which would have made the same changes – but these were rejected. We also supported private members’ bills aiming to achieve the same thing, and opposed attempts to introduce abstinence-only education. We also submitted a detailed response to the PSHE Review, and were disappointed that the outcome of that review was that there will be no change (however we are pleased that Government-endorsed supplementary guidance was produced).
We worked with Education For Choice and others to expose groups that are ideologically against abortion which have been making unevidenced claims around abortion and contraception in schools. Groups such as SPUC, LIFE and Lovewise have been found to be making unevidenced claims such as that abortion causes breast cancer, or leads to depression and suicide. In February 2013, Education For Choice published a report on this work.
We are currently calling for strengthened PSE and SRE as part of the Welsh Government’s review of the Curriculum for Wales.
We’re currently fundraising to keep our dedicated campaigner on ‘faith’ schools and education – the only full-time campaigner on these issues in the UK. We’ve not yet raised his salary for 2016 – you can help us do so by donating at http://www.justgiving.com/nofaithschools.
We continue to be concerned about anti-abortion groups making dangerous claims in schools. If you are aware of groups such as SPUC, LIFE and Lovewise going into a school, please let us know.
You can also support Humanists UK by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to Humanists UK.