‘You can teach the promotion of marriage; you can teach that you shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage; what you can’t do is deny young people information about contraception outside of marriage. The same arises in homosexuality. Some faiths have a view about what in religious terms is right and wrong – what they can’t do though is not teach the importance of tolerance’ (Ed Balls).
This statement from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families on the Government’s plans for sex education brings home the contempt this Government seems to have for the views of Bible-believing Christians. Privately, we are at liberty to think and believe what we like, but in public there is no place for the exclusive claims of Christ or absolute standards of biblical morality.
So, when it comes to sex education in schools, the sacred cows of contraception and homosexuality demand that children be taught that contraceptive use is the defining mark of sexual responsibility, and homosexual partnerships are on a par with lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.
In effect, the message to Christian parents is, ‘You can believe what you like about what is right and wrong, but when it comes to what your children are taught in school, the state knows best’!
Notwithstanding strong public opposition, the Government is pressing ahead with what can only be described as a relentless quest to undermine parents and impose a new morality upon our children.
The Children, Schools and Families Bill sets out to impose sex and relationships education (SRE) on all maintained schools, from primary school entry onwards, and to remove from parents the right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons once they reach the age of 15.
Under current legislation, secretaries of state are required to issue guidance aimed at ensuring that sex education lessons teach ‘the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children’.
However, the Children, Schools and Families Bill threatens to add an extra clause that puts same-sex civil partnership on a par with marriage. In the words of the bill, future guidance on sex education will ensure that children ‘learn the nature of civil partnership and the importance of strong and stable relationships’. The Government’s determination to promote a diversity of family forms could hardly be clearer.
In a further ominous sign of things to come, the bill is also proposing to remove any reference to protecting children from ‘teaching and materials which are inappropriate, having regard to the age and the religious and cultural background of the pupils concerned’.
The Government’s proposals are music to the ears of groups like fpa and Brook, who have long campaigned for compulsory sex education, as a means of advancing their agenda to redefine the family, break down traditional moral standards, celebrate homosexuality and encourage sexual experimentation.
But there is widespread disquiet among parents, who are deeply concerned about any moves to reduce their influence over what is taught in such sensitive subject areas.
In spite of a concerted campaign from the sex education lobby, 68 per cent of respondents to the Government’s own public consultation exercise disagreed with making Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHEe) a statutory subject, and 79 per cent agreed that parents, carers and guardians should retain the right to withdraw their children from the SRE element of PSHEe.
However, undeterred by such a strong response to a consultation which attracted as many as 6,433 submissions, the Government quietly commissioned a further survey of 1,791 adults and 1,661 parents. It asked leading questions aimed at securing public support not only for making PSHEe statutory, but also for limiting the right of parents to withdraw their children from SRE lessons.
The Government has admitted that there is no evidence that 15- and 16-year-old pupils withdrawn from sex education classes are at any greater risk of teenage pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections than other pupils. Its plan to remove from parents the right of parental withdrawal once their children reach the age of 15 rests on a spurious appeal to children’s rights.
The explanatory notes to the bill state that giving all pupils a guarantee of sex education lessons ‘at the very least in the last year of compulsory education’ will ensure that their ‘right to a private life’ under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights is not infringed.
However, Article 8 does not provide any basis for regarding 15- and 16-year-olds as autonomous individuals, to be treated independently of their parents. Rather, the convention refers to ‘the right to respect for … private and family life’. The Government has chosen to write the family out of the script.
Equally unconvincing is the Government’s appeal to Article 12 of theUnited Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which refers to the right of children freely to express their own views and have them given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity.
The fact that there is no provision in the bill for granting pupils the right to withdraw themselves from sex education classes from their 15th birthday shows that this has got nothing to do with the rights of the child and everything to do with the assumed right of the state to determine what 15- and 16-year-olds will learn about sex and relationships.
Enough is enough
When Evan Harris MP employed children’s rights arguments against the right of parents to withdraw their children from collective worship and religious education lessons last year, he received a firm rebuff. The children’s minister, Baroness Morgan, vigorously defended the parental right of withdrawal on the basis that ‘parents bring up children in this country, not the Government and not schools’.
That is a mantra the Government frequently repeats, and yet increasingly parents find themselves sidelined and effectively told they must bring up their children by state diktat. It is time for parents to stand up to the encroachments of an overbearing state and say ‘enough is enough’.
Education law in Britain is clear that parents, and not the state, are responsible for the education of their children (until the summer of the academic year in which they turn 16). But even more importantly, the Bible teaches that God has entrusted to parents, and particularly fathers, the task of bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
It is simply not an option for Christian parents to accept passively whatever the government of the day determines their children should be learning.
The author is director of the Family Education Trust (www.famyouth.org.uk)and author of Too much, too soon: The Government’s plans for your child’s sex education