Join Donate

UK Government slams Catholic RSE resource over ‘gender stereotypes’ that ‘could normalise non-consensual behaviour’

The UK Government has condemned a Catholic relationships and sex education (RSE) resource, arguing it should not be used in schools. It says it has ‘serious concerns’ and it ‘would be hard for a school to present [it] in a way that is consistent with the… statutory guidance.’ It contains ‘gender stereotypes’ that ‘could normalise non-consensual behaviour or encourage prejudice’. The resource was originally exposed by Humanists UK.

The comments were made by Education Minister Nick Gibb in a letter to Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire Jesse Norman. Mr Norman wrote to Mr Gibb about the resource – called A Fertile Heart – after complaints that a school in his constituency was using it. Humanists UK has been lobbying the Government to ban the resource for six months. It welcomed the Government finally taking action over its misogynistic attitudes and misinformation. But it added that the Government should scrap carve-outs to the law that allow faith schools to teach RSE from a religious perspective.

A Fertile Heart says that ‘man was created to be the initiator in sexual relationships’ and women are ‘receiver-responders’. It also tells pupils that the pill is a ‘moral danger’, and that gay and lesbian people cannot marry and must abstain from sex.

In the letter Mr Gibb says that ‘generally, the Department does not comment on externally produced resources’. Instead, it prefers individual schools ‘make their own decisions about the best teaching resources’. But, following multiple complaints from Humanists UK and others – including Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding Jess Phillips – it has made an exception.

Mr Gibb goes on to say he has ‘serious concerns’ that the ‘gender stereotypes’ in A Fertile Heart. He refers to the suggestion that men should play a ‘directing’ or ‘initiating’ role in relationships, and that the role of women is to ‘receive’. He says the resource ‘includes information about the effect of contraception on girls which is inaccurate and appears to be included to alarm pupils.’

A Fertile Heart was produced by Catholic priests. Until recently, the Archdiocese of Cardiff directed its use in all of its schools. But Gibb writes that ‘we understand that is no longer the case and schools in the Archdiocese now have a choice of resources, including A Fertile Heart.’ He says the Government ‘has no powers to withdraw the material’ or ‘direct that it is amended’. However, he says, ‘given our concerns about sexual violence against girls in schools and our increasing awareness of the way in which the school culture can contribute to this serious problem, I will write to the publishers of “A Fertile Heart”, and to the Archbishop of Cardiff to set out my serious concerns.’

Faith schools are legally able to teach RSE in line with their religious ethos. But Gibb says content should be made ‘clear when what [pupils] are being taught reflects a religious belief’ rather than fact. ‘This is particularly important where pupils are taught about topics, such as contraception and same sex relationships, where religious belief may not align with aspects of the curriculum.’

The letter comes just as an urgent Ofsted review into sex abuse in schools has been published. It found that children and young people were ‘rarely positive’ about the RSE they’d received in school, with many saying it was ‘too little, too late’. School leaders ‘consistently underestimate’ the scale of the problem of abuse and harassment. ‘It shouldn’t be our responsibility to educate the boys’ said one girl who provided evidence.

Humanists UK Education Campaign Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented: 

‘We have been lobbying the UK Government to condemn A Fertile Heart since we first uncovered it six months ago. We’re glad that it’s finally agreed it promotes unacceptable misogyny and factually inaccurate information. And that this content risks fostering rape culture and damaging pupils.

‘But the Government must now take steps to make sure that material like this is never used in classrooms. All children and young people are entitled to comprehensive information on sex and relationships. To make this a reality, faith-based carve-outs to RSE must be scrapped.’

One of the schools in England using the resource – St Mary’s RC High School in Herefordshire – recently had to ‘change the language’ of the resource in order to pass an Ofsted inspection. The inspection report said  ‘the way leaders intend to implement the RSE programme’ would not ‘endorse messages that are contrary to the Equality Act 2010’. But the full programme is still listed on the school’s website. Subsequently, St Mary’s was also named in a list of schools linked to pupil testimonies about sexual abuse on the survivor website, Everyone’s Invited.

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 the letter in full.

Read the Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges.

Read our most recent article on the school forced to amend ‘misogynistic’ Catholic RSE resource to pass Ofsted inspection.

Read our article on why Ofsted’s school safeguarding review must consider the role of faith-based RSE in rape culture.

Read our 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Search Humanists UK