School safeguarding review must consider role of faith-based RSE in rape culture, says Humanists UK

1 April, 2021

Photo by Kyle Broad on Unsplash

An urgent review of school safeguarding by school inspectorate Ofsted must consider the role faith-based relationships and sex education (RSE) and the resources used to teach it play in exacerbating rape culture, Humanists UK has said.

Humanists UK has recently raised repeated concerns about one particular Catholic RSE resource – called A Fertile Heart – that says ‘men are created to be initiators’ in sexual relationships, with women simply ‘receiver-responders’. Following on from that, and a slew of reports of schools, including those with a religious character, failing to tackle sexual harassment and abuse in schools, the Government yesterday announced that it has instructed Ofsted to carry out an immediate review of safeguarding policies in state and independent schools.

The news came as Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for fully inclusive, fact-based RSE that deals with issues such as consent and sexual violence – revealed that neither the UK nor Welsh governments had taken any action to withdraw or condemn A Fertile Heart in the two months since Humanists UK first raised it.

The Government said the review ‘will look at the extent and the severity of the issue and ensure schools have appropriate processes in place to allow pupils to report concerns freely, knowing these will be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly and appropriately’. It will also ‘make sure there is sufficient guidance on how schools should deal with sexual harassment and violence allegations, and whether the current inspection regimes in both state and private schools are strong enough to address concerns and promote the welfare of children.’

However, since schools with a religious character are currently permitted to teach RSE in line with their own faith perspective, Humanists UK says that the review must consider the extent to which this is leading to dangerous misogynistic attitudes being promulgated under the guise of religious doctrine. It also argues that tougher guidelines are required on the types of resources that are suitable for teaching the subject, and the review should consider how to improve the process by which concerned pupils, parents, and others can report inappropriate resources directly to Ofsted and the DfE. Current processes mean that such concerns are usually directed straight back to the school’s own internal complaints procedure. Indeed, this was precisely what happened when Humanists UK lodged a complaint about A Fertile Heart, even though there were explicit links to safeguarding issues in one of the schools teaching it highlighted in the complaint.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘We very much welcome this urgent and timely review and hope it marks the first step towards making our schools safe for everyone, particularly young women and girls.

‘However, if this exercise is to have any real impact, it must consider the role played by RSE in tackling these issues. RSE can be used to improve attitudes to women and girls and enable children to learn about consent and sexual violence, as well as how to report problems and worries when they arise. At present, faith-based carve-outs to the subject mean that dangerously misogynistic attitudes – attitudes that exacerbate rape culture and discrimination against women – are being taught and defended on the basis that they reflect religious doctrine. The Government must take steps to end faith-based exemptions to RSE now.’


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

Read our most recent article on the Government’s failure to condemn ‘rape culture’ RSE resource used in Catholic schools.

Read our 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.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.