A UK Government review of relationships and sex education (RSE) shouldn’t be used as a tool to row back on LGBT-inclusive provision and should instead target genuine problems like inaccurate and harmful religious RSE resources, Humanists UK has warned.
The urgent review to Government guidance was announced by Rishi Sunak in response to a question from Conservative MP Miriam Cates yesterday. Ms Cates claimed that RSE lessons are often ‘age-inappropriate, extreme, sexualising and inaccurate’. However, teaching unions have expressed concern that Cates’s view – supported by nearly 50 other Conservative MPs in a letter to the Prime Minister – is not based on evidence of a widespread problem. And many of the specific claims she has made do not appear to be supported by evidence. These include, in Prime Minister’s Questions, that there have been ‘Graphic lessons on oral sex, how to choke your partner safely, and 72 genders.’ Further, most of the examples cited by Cates refer to teaching about LGBT people, prompting the worry that the review will primarily target LGBT inclusivity.
RSE became compulsory in all secondary schools in England from September 2020, with relationships education becoming compulsory in all primaries at the same time. Humanists UK – which has campaigned for fully inclusive RSE for all pupils irrespective of religion or belief for decades – strongly welcomed the new law. However, the statutory guidance for RSE (published in 2019) is not perfect. Unlike in Wales, where the new Curriculum and Assessment Act has removed the parental right to withdraw from the subject, parents may still remove their children from sex education in England until they are three terms from their 16th birthday. This means that younger pupils are missing out on this vitally important education purely because it conflicts with the views of their parents.
What’s more, RSE is still subject to faith-based carve-outs which enable religious schools to teach the subject in line with the tenets of the faith. In 2021, this allowed a Catholic RSE resource called A Fertile Heart, which said that men were ‘created to initiate sexual relationships’ and women to be ‘receiver-responders’, as well as calling the contraceptive pill a ‘danger’, to continue to be taught in schools for over six months after Humanists UK exposed it. After months of pressure, the resource was eventually condemned by the Government. However, it is not known how many similar resources are currently being used in schools.
Humanists UK Education Policy Researcher Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘We are seriously concerned that this review is designed to row back on LGBT-inclusive RSE rather than tackle very real problems like harmful and inaccurate faith-based teaching on sex and relationships, the continuation of the parental right to withdraw, or a lack of adequate teacher training and support.
‘LGBT people exist and pupils, many of whom will have LGBT friends and family members or be LGBT themselves, must be given the opportunity to learn about this in an inclusive way in school. We urge the Government not to undo its good work on this issue. If there is to be a review, it should be used as an opportunity to strengthen inclusive RSE provision for all children regardless of background. We will be writing to the Education Secretary to make our views on that clear.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Read our most recent article on the High Court ruling that compulsory RSE in Wales is legal.
Read our original exposé of faith-based resource 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.