Catholic groups in Britain have criticised MPs for demanding that children as young as five be given sex education lessons.
Responding to the Education Select Committee report Life Lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools, Antonia Tully of SPUC’s Safe at School campaign said: “Parents constantly find themselves having to battle with schools in order to protect their children from inappropriate sex education. The recommendation from the Education Committee that parents can continue to withdraw their children from sex education isn’t addressing this problem.”
She added that new guidelines weren’t needed.
“We already have guidelines for schools which repeatedly stress that parents must be involved,” she said. “What is missing is a robust mechanism to ensure that schools really do engage with parents. Parents are the primary educators of their children, they are natural sex educators of their children and they are the experts on their own children.”
In a statement the Catholic Education Service, which acts on behalf of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, said: “Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) is essential for young people to learn about the nature of marriage, family life and relationships, taught in an age-appropriate way. In Catholic schools RSE must be taught in the context of Church teaching and with the full consultation and involvement of parents.”
The CES submitted written evidence to the Education Select Committee inquiry on PSHE and SRE and representatives were called to give oral evidence.
In its statement the CES said: “We welcome the Committee’s support for the role of parents in RSE. This is shown in their recommendations that all schools should be required to run a regular consultation with parents on the school’s RSE provision and that the parental right to withdraw their child from elements of RSE should be retained.”
The CES added that schools should be able to decide which resources are appropriate.
Sarah Carter, a trustee of the Family Education Trust and the trust’s nominated spokeswoman at the Education Committee’s evidence session, said: “There have been serious concerns raised over the appropriateness of the resources for teaching SRE that are being endorsed by the Education Committee’s recommendation.
“The Committee’s report supports the right of parents to be consulted and to withdraw their child from ‘elements’ of SRE. However, actively promoting classroom resources published by Brook, Sex Education Forum and PSHE Association to schools and governors will undermine the wishes of the parents in favour of so-called experts.
“Most of the components of PSHE are the primary responsibility of parents and by placing the subject on a statutory footing there would be a very real danger that parents would consider themselves less responsible for these aspects of their child’s physical, emotional and social development.
Catholic former headmaster Eric Hester questioned the need for government interference.
He said: “I was for 24 years a headmaster of schools – comprehensive and independent grammar. In addition, I led the inspection of over 50 independent schools and wrote the reports. Why are the independent schools so good on this matter as on everything else? The reason is obvious: the independent schools are not controlled by the politicians but by the parents.
“If parents do not like the sex education in an independent school they can withdraw their children, not just from sex classes, but from the school: they can take their children elsewhere. If parents in the state sector had the same choice of school, then education would improve at once.”