Faith-based RSE resources saying contraception is wrong, that gay and lesbian people cannot marry and must entirely abstain from sex, and that men were ‘created to initiate sexual relationships’ and women to be ‘receiver-responders’ are being used in schools across the UK, Humanists UK can exclusively reveal.
The resources, which form part of a Catholic RSE programme called A Fertile Heart: Receiving and Giving Creative Love, have received endorsement by the Archbishop of Cardiff, George Stack, and were produced by a group of priests from the dioceses of Birmingham, Cardiff, Clifton, and Shrewsbury. The programme was piloted in 43 primary schools and thirteen secondary schools in the Archdiocese of Cardiff but is also being taught in at least one high school in England.
A Year 10 (age 14-15) lesson in one A Fertile Heart textbook aims to teach pupils to ‘understand different levels of male/female complementarity’ arguing that, in a romantic relationship, ‘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’.
Pupils are also told that all contraception is wrong and that ‘the pill bulldozes through and prevents the young woman understanding her fertility and femininity’. Taking the pill to manage the menstrual cycle is discouraged on the basis it can ‘mask chemical imbalances that could be better dealt with another way’ and pupils are told such imbalances and infertility levels have gone up since the discovery of the pill. Suggested activities during a related Year 11 lesson involve discussing whether contraception has made women ‘more “available” and vulnerable to being used’.
In a section on same-sex attraction, pupils watch a video in which same-sex marriage is likened to polygamy. The presenter, Jason Evert, a well known American Catholic author who actively promotes chastity, goes on to say that, because sex may only take place within marriage and marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman, those who exclusively experience same-sex attraction should abstain from sex. Mr Evert then says he ‘[looks] forward to the day in the Catholic Church when there are canonised saints who experienced homosexual attraction and chose to glorify God with their bodies’ – presumably either by remaining chaste or entering into heterosexual marriages.
Worryingly, the laws relating to RSE in both England and Wales allow faith schools to teach the subject in line with the religion of the school. However, some of the lessons in A Fertile Heart make claims that go even further than this by purporting to be scientifically verified when they are not. For example, the session on complementarity refers to differences between male and female brains being backed up by evidence from brain scans. However, even the article referenced specifically highlights that this is an area of considerable scientific debate, with the study mentioned in the textbook having been severely criticised by other scientists in the field. To deliberately obscure this controversy goes against the law in England which does not allow schools to teach theories that are not robustly scientifically evidenced as true. In Wales, there is no such prohibition, although Wales Humanists has repeatedly urged the Welsh Government to introduce one as part of the new curriculum.
In November, MP Stella Creasy asked the Government whether the latest RSE guidance permitted the use of A Fertile Heart in English schools. However, despite the fact that the resources fly in the face of the Government’s position that external resources must be ‘evidence-based and [contain] robust facts and statistics’ and statutory guidance saying teaching should not enforce harmful stereotypes, Minister of State for Education, Nick Gibb, failed to condemn them. Instead, he said ‘it is for schools to decide which resources they choose to support the teaching of RSHE’.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘All the best evidence shows that outdated abstinence-based models of sex education like that peddled by A Fertile Heart don’t work and can even have a negative impact on sexual health outcomes. A resource that tells girls their role is to be “receiver-responders” in their relationships with men, that discourages the use of contraception, and tells young gay and lesbian people that there is no way for them to marry or express their love for another person, has no place being taught in schools. This is particularly the case when, as is the case with A Fertile Heart, that resource uses pseudoscience and half-truths to back up its flimsy arguments.
‘These resources highlight exactly why the Government’s decision to allow religious schools to deliver faith-based RSE is so egregious. Regardless of their backgrounds, all children and young people should be entitled to comprehensive, fact-based information on relationships and sexual health.
‘We urge the Government to remove the faith-based carve-outs to the law on RSE and prevent resources like this finding their way into our schools. Only then will the subject be able to truly ensure that every child is able to grow up healthy, happy, and above all, safe.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.
See a sample of resources from A Fertile Heart: Receiving and Giving Creative Love.
Read our most recent article on new Government RSE implementation guidance.
Read our piece on new Ofsted guidance that says schools must teach respect for LGBT people.
Read our piece on the introduction of relationships and sex education in England.
Read more about our work on relationships and sex education.
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