Will or won’t parents retain the right to withdraw their children from sex education?
Posted by Dr Tom Rogers on 12 March 2018
Will or won’t parents retain the right to withdraw their children from sex education?
Education secretary, Damian Hinds MP, reignited the sex education debate recently when he confirmed in several interviews that parents would retain the right to withdraw their children from sex education classes once the new compulsory subjects of Relationships Education (RE) in primary schools and Relationships and Sex Educations (RSE) in secondary schools come into force in September 2019.
Appearing on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show (18.02.18) the presenter asked Damian Hinds the question: ‘you want to make it easier for parents to take their children out of sex education lessons?’. To which the Education Secretary replied:
‘No there’s already an established right to take your children out of sex education lessons. What we’re doing is bringing in relationships education in primary school and relationship and sex education in secondary schools…It will be compulsory to have them in all schools, but as I say there’s an established right which will continue for parents to be able to withdraw their children from the sex education bits of Relationships and Sex Education.”
Damian Hinds made a similar pronouncement the same weekend in an interview with The Sunday Times (18.02.18). The journalist remarked how his position marked ‘a change of course’, since his predecessor in the role, Justine Greening, favoured making sex education compulsory.
Damian Hind’s comments in the media appear to have raised the expectation, particularly in the religious press, that the parental right of withdrawal will be upheld, whilst the humanist, LGBT and sex education lobbies have all expressed their disapproval. The Pink News, for instance, accused the Education Secretary of ‘buckling’ under pressure from faith groups.
So, should concerned parents therefore breath a huge sigh of relief that their role as primary educator will be respected?
It is first worth examining Hind’s comments in the context of what we already know about the Government’s stated policy, as well as its intentions, for the new subjects.
First of all, the Education Secretary’s comments were carefully worded and, as he suggests, represent no actual change in the Government’s stated policy on RSE. According to the Department of Education’s RSE and PSHE policy statement published in March 2017, on the passing of the Children & Social Work Act, the DofE stated that:
We have committed to retain a parents’ right to withdraw their child from sex education within RSE (other than sex education in the National Curriculum as part of science), as currently, but not from relationships education at primary. This is because parents should have the right to teach this themselves in a way which is consistent with their values. The Secretary of State will consult further in order to clarify the age at which a young person may have the right to make their own decisions. The outcome will be set out in regulations which will be subject to consultation and debate [my italics] (p.4).
There is a fair amount of Orwellian double-speak in this statement which will take some unravelling, but, in essence, Damian Hinds has simply repeated stated Government policy of retaining ‘parents’ right to withdraw their child from sex education within RSE (other than sex education in the National Curriculum as part of science)’.
Where will the as yet ill-defined distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘relationships’ education be drawn?
Up to now, parents have indeed been legally able to withdraw their children from Sex and Relationships Education (SRE – as it has previously been known) if they wish to do so. The only exceptions to this being the biological aspects of human growth and reproduction contained in the National Science Curriculum. Note, however, that the Education Secretary and the DofE policy document do not say that parents will have the legal right to remove children from sex education within Relationships Education at primary. The Government implies that it will establish an as yet ill-defined distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘relationships’. It further implies that ‘sex education’ concerns the actual physical mechanics of sexual activity, as well as such matters as contraception and ‘safe sex’. The trouble is that the whole justification touted by politicians and the sex education lobby for bringing in compulsory Relationships Education for primary school children has largely been the alleged need to deal with the new sexual threats of the digital age – such as sexting, internet grooming and online pornography, as well as the need to safeguard children from physical sexual abuse. These are all matters which are inherently sexual in nature and which parents may wish to deal with in their own way.
The Children and Social Work Act 2017 itself states that in both RE and RSE the ‘pupils [will] learn about i/ safety in forming and maintaining relationships ii/ the characteristics of healthy relationships, and iii/ how relationships may affect physical and mental health and well-being’. This certainly suggests that Relationships Education at primary school will be more than just about, for example, how to be a better friend or family member, and the DofE’s accompanying policy statement also goes on to stipulate the teaching of such matters as ‘different types of relationships’, ‘commitment, tolerance, boundaries and consent’, ‘how to recognise unhealthy relationships’ and ‘safety online’ (p.3). Furthermore, in case there is any doubt about what ‘learning about different types of relationships’ means, Government ministers, including Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP, and the Prime Minister herself, have repeatedly asserted that the new subjects will be ‘LGBT inclusive’.
Will parents or the government decide what constitutes ‘sex education’?
Will it therefore be up to parents to decide what constitutes ‘sex education’ in either Relationships Education or RSE? Or will parents be forced to let the Government decide that for them? The Children & Social Work Act does state the requirement that ‘the education is appropriate having regard to the age and the religious background of the pupils’, but it is unclear who, apart from the Secretary of State, will be the final arbiter of this ‘appropriateness’.
Apart from the risk of sex education being smuggled into Relationships Education, there is also the risk of more explicit and inappropriate forms of sex education being smuggled into the compulsory science curriculum – an issue with which parents are already having to deal at both primary and secondary schools. Moreover, the LGBT lobby, led by Stonewall, are pushing hard to for the entire school curriculum to be ‘LGBT inclusive’ —a campaign supported by education publisher, Pearson International, who recently announced that all of their textbooks will reflect this ideological agenda.
Will parents know exactly what is being taught and when, so as to make it easy for them to withdraw their children?
There are other questions raised by the official statements. Will the ‘sex’ and ‘relationships’ elements of RSE be clearly demarcated so that parents will know exactly what is being taught and when, so as to make it easy for them to withdraw their children? Furthermore, note how the DofE policy statement adds that ‘the Secretary of State will consult further in order to clarify the age at which a young person may have the right to make their own decisions’ (p.4). A footnote (7) to that statement unhelpfully notes how ‘providing a parent with a blanket right to withdraw their child from sex education is no longer consistent with English case law (or with the ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights] and UNCRC [UN Convention on the Rights of the Child])’. It is not clear exactly what the Government is alluding to, but the right of parents to withdraw their children may well be an irrelevance anyway if their decision can be legally overruled by their children.
Given that for over 40 years it has been the Department of Health’s policy to supply confidential provision of contraception to under-16s without parental knowledge or consent, then we cannot be confident of the Government having the will or inclination to protect parental rights and responsibilities. In addition, if our children will have been so groomed by LGBT ideology by the time they get to secondary school, and with ‘sexual health services and advice’ also heavily promoted via the school nurse and signposted organisations, the issue of opting out of sex education within RSE might well be regarded further as a mere side issue.
Still far too many questions left unanswered, and it seems the Government is unclear how to answer them
Overall, there are still far too many questions left unanswered, and it seems the Government is unclear how to answer them or exactly what to do with these new compulsory subjects of Relationships Education and RSE now that it has legislated for them. The sex education and LGBT lobbies who long agitated for the change in law certainly have their agenda for our children, and they have long had the ear and favour of our Government.
However, both the Government and anti-life groups have clearly been unnerved by the strength of opposition, especially from parents anxious to protect and raise their children in the way they know best. The recent ‘call for evidence’ on the content of RSE and PSHE resulted in over 20,000 submissions, and supporters of Safe at School and other pro-family campaigns will certainly make up a large proportion of them. The Government has stated that these submissions will inform the draft regulations and guidance which will then be subject to a further ‘full public consultation before the regulations are laid in Parliament for debate and vote’. Parents and other supporters of Safe at School will therefore have a further chance to make their voices heard, and we will keep you fully informed of all developments and opportunities to engage in this important process. Please sign up, if you have not already done so, for dedicated Safe at School updates via the link below:
 Department for Education, Policy Statement: Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education, and Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (March 2017); https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/595828/170301_Policy_statement_PSHEv2.pdf
 Children and Social Work Act 2017, Ch. 16, Pt.1, Ch.4, 34 (3)(a), http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/16/contents/enacted
 For instance, in a debate on ‘LGBT Awareness’ in the Commons on 29.01.18 the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, was asked whether he was committed to making RSE ‘LGBT inclusive’, to which he replied: ‘We are clear that the new subjects should ensure that young people learn that there are different types of relationships. Schools should ensure therefore that RSE is inclusive and meets the needs of all young people’. Hansard, Vol. 635, 29.01.18; https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-01-29/debates/3FFE3AFE-D726-4400-9E8C-F144E9B5E1F2/LGBTAwareness
Speaking at the Pink Awards 2017, PM Theresa May stated, “We need to keep up our action, so we are pressing ahead with inclusive relationship and sex education in English schools, making sure that LGBT issues are taught well’. Pink News, 18.10.18; https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/10/18/prime-minister-theresa-may-addresses-pinknews-awards/
 See Stonewall / Pearson, Creating an LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum: A Guide for Secondary Schools, 2017; https://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/inclusive_curriculum_guide_0.pdf.