Why are the voices of concern from parents about sex education not being listened to, wonders Gill Robins.
Schools have always been a popular place for the delivery of mass education – it’s the only occasion when the majority of the country’s children are in one place at one time. During WWII, for example, Government propaganda included Make Do and Mend and information about how to cook on war-time rations. Children were encouraged to knit socks and hats for soldiers or collect scrap metal. Arguably, promoting wartime propaganda was an acceptable use of the Government’s power to determine what was taught in schools: the nation was generally united in wanting to win the war and everyone on the Home Front was keen to play their part in supporting each other.
Our fragmented country
But in a country which is now fragmented by identity politics in which lobby groups campaign relentlessly for their views to be embraced, what should we expect schools to teach? Strategies that worked for a nation united against a common enemy won’t work in a pluralist, multicultural society. In recent years, attempting to solve all social problems via the classroom has become a growing trend. One estimate suggests that there have been 90 calls from interest groups to get their agendas implemented in school curricula. But schools alone cannot create a cohesive, prosperous and strong society; for that to happen, everyone needs to work together.
…children will be taught from nursery about relationships of all kinds, including gender fluidity and same-sex marriage
The crucial question in all of this is where parental responsibility begins and ends. Christians believe that children are a gift from God and that their role is one of guardianship and nurturing, not of ownership. The Bible is quite clear about this responsibility: The Bible book of Deuteronomy (one of the books of Jewish law) tells us to, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates’ (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). We choose, in our modern culture, to share this God-given responsibility with a range of professionals – nurseries; schools; clubs; music and dance teachers, or sports coaches – but we retain our guardianship role in choosing the best route for our children to adult life.
Many parents are beginning to feel that this responsibility is being eroded by the state. A recent bill to enforce compulsory registration and inspection of home educators (including interviewing children without parents present) has just received its second reading. This is the most recent of several attempts to control home education and impose centralised control on parents, regardless of the fact that under European human rights law, the right of every parent to educate their child in accordance with their philosophical or religious views is acknowledged. It’s a law that was created following WWII, in recognition of the dangers of state-imposed control over the raising of children.
Schools work hard to build effective relationships with parents
The role of parents in the proposed Relationships and Sex Education curriculum are also a matter of keen debate. In recognition of the wide range of parental views on when and how to talk to their children about sex, the parental opt-out from sex education in the primary phase will be retained. The new relationships education, however, will have no such opt-out. For many parents that is problematic – children will be taught from nursery about relationships of all kinds, including gender fluidity and same-sex marriage. Helping a child to embark on a world where the families and relationships of their peers vary from their own, and supporting them as they learn to understand and respect difference, is best done by parents, not teachers. Yet the state is assuming this control. The Department for Education assures parents that this will be age appropriate, but any parent will know that even siblings will ask different questions and be ready for different answers, at different stages of their lives. There is no such thing as blanket “age appropriate” delineation when it comes to understanding relationships.
Or parental control?
There is further concern about plans to teach children about consent. For young children this will include learning the difference between “good touching” and “bad touching”. For many parents, this is seen as an unnecessary robbing of their child’s innocence. Teaching older children to understand grooming and sexual abuse in order to protect themselves against exploitation is also concerning, because it tells children that adults, even in their own homes and social groups, can be a threat. This is not the experience of most children and parents are best placed to know when, and how, to introduce the subject and talk about it in a context which their children understand.
Schools work hard to build effective relationships with parents. Although these sometimes go wrong, we have a long tradition of co-operative home-school partnerships which work for the benefit of everyone in the school community. It would be sad for that to be lost by the imposition of curriculum content that parents simply don’t want their children to be taught, either at a point in their lives determined as appropriate by the state, or in the way that the state determines. Parents need to be included – it is they who have care of their children and whose relationships will continue to grow and flourish long after school days are over.
Gill Robins is a former deputy head teacher. She now runs Christians in Education, which advocates for the Christian perspective in education. You can find out more by visiting www.christiansineducation.co.uk which has a For Parents section.