Should we be worried about sex and relationships education?
The next AOI Education Forum event considers the sex and relationships classes that will be compulsory for children aged five and over from 2020. Over the course of their time in primary and secondary school, pupils will be introduced to a range of issues, including female genital mutilation, sexting, pornography, forced marriage and consent. They will also learn about homosexuality and that people can be a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth. What are we to make of this development? Should we welcome or be worried by such classes? Is sex and relationships education morphing into ‘values education’ and, if so, does it matter?
When it comes to teaching sex and relationships, the values of parents and politicians do not always coincide. While some parents and campaigners have welcomed the statutory guidance, others are fiercely opposed to what they deem to be government interference in the moral instruction of their children. Over 100,000 people have signed a petition against the new Sex and Relationships Guidance. In Birmingham, 600 Muslim children aged between four and 11 were withdrawn from school for the day in opposition to what parents described as the promotion of homosexuality. Protest placards demanded ‘Education not Indoctrination’. A significant minority of parents are also similarly hostile to lessons on transgenderism.
However, supporters of the new move insist that such classes are vital to eliminate bigotry and prejudice against sexual minorities. To oppose these lessons is to oppose inclusion, progress and tolerance, they argue. Our discussion aims to explore several morally complex questions thrown up by the new draft guidance. Where is the line between sex education and values education – or between parental rights and state demands? In Britain, is the primary responsibility for socialisation and moral instruction shifting from parents to the state and schools? Above all, what is the tolerant way forward?
Dr Joanna Williams
head of education and culture, Policy Exchange