A school using a Catholic resource saying ‘men are created to be initiators’ and women ‘receiver-responders’ in sexual relationships has told Ofsted it had to ‘change the language’. It said this was because of ‘concerns about how the roles and responsibilities of men and women within relationships were described.’ Humanists UK was responsible for exposing the resource – called A Fertile Heart – earlier this year. It said the case shows why faith organisations should not have any responsibility for RSE.
St Mary’s Roman Catholic High School in Hereford had a snap inspection last month. During this, school leaders said the wording of RSE materials they had been ‘asked’ to use by the Archdiocese of Cardiff needed to be changed because of the way they described relationships between men and women. The RSE policy on the school’s website says the use of A Fertile Heart is ‘directed’ by the Archdiocese. The Director of Religious Education for the Archdiocese, Father Bernard Sixtus, also claims the resource ‘authentically reflects Catholic teaching’.
The inspection was prompted by ‘concerns that St Mary’s current RSE programme encourages misogynistic and discriminatory attitudes’. It found that ‘the way leaders intend to implement the RSE programme’ would not ‘endorse messages that are contrary to the Equality Act 2010’. But the outline of the teaching that is currently on the school’s website still fully matches A Fertile Heart. It includes a lesson on understanding ‘the different levels of male/female complementarity’. This is the view that men and women have distinct but complementary roles in relationships. Another problematic lesson on ‘sexual bonding’ is also listed. On this subject, the textbook says women are ‘prone to suffer mentally and emotionally if sexual relationships fail’. It also draws a link between ‘the amount of sexual partners a woman [has] chosen to have’ and her marriage lasting in later life.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘Given the levels of sexual violence against women and girls, we are pleased this school has finally acknowledged that teaching pupils men are “initiators” and women “receiver-responders” is totally unjustifiable. However, this case shows why religious organisations should not have responsibility for RSE. The Archdiocese of Cardiff helped produce A Fertile Heart and still directs its use in all of its schools. But St Mary’s had to amend the content to meet its legal responsibilities for teaching the subject. The school’s website also suggests it may still be using a great deal of A Fertile Heart in its RSE curriculum. And we are worried it may come under pressure from the Archdiocese to continue doing so.
‘The law allows schools to teach RSE from a religious perspective. But this often leads to misogynistic, homophobic, and pseudoscientific teaching. The only way to stop this is to change the law to make sure that all children receive objective, evidence-based lessons on sex and relationships. This should be true regardless of the type of school they attend.’
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.
The snap inspection of St Mary’s took place as a result of complaints from Humanists UK and others about A Fertile Heart and links to broader safeguarding issues. Initially, both the DfE and Ofsted said that they would not comment on individual resources. Instead they said complaints should go through the school’s internal complaints processes. But following a large number of public reports of schools, including those with a religious character, failing to tackle the problem of sexual abuse and harassment, there appeared to be a change of approach and the inspection took place.
In addition to teaching that ‘masculinity is more about initiating… and femininity is more about receiving’, A Fertile Heart also teaches that the contraceptive pill is dangerous. It uses a video resource that likens same-sex marriage to polygamy, and argues that gay and lesbian people cannot legitimately marry and must entirely abstain from sex.
Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding Jess Phillips MP is working with Humanists UK on the issue of faith-based caveats to RSE policy. She called A Fertile Heart ‘totally unacceptable’. She added that ‘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’.
Read the Ofsted report.
Read our most recent article on the snap inspection at St Mary’s.
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.
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