Interfaith leaders demand sexual health information for children

July 12, 2017

A group of 53 religious activists and clergy from several faiths have called for all schools in England to have to provide factual information about contraception and abortion, and to promote an acceptance of lesbian, gay, bi and transgender (LGBT) people. The request has been made in an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, which is published in today’s Guardian.

The letter comes in response to the enactment in April of the Children and Social Work Act 2017. The Act requires pupils receiving primary education at all schools in England to be taught ‘relationships education’ and pupils receiving secondary education all schools in England to be taught ‘relationships and sex education’ (a move welcomed by the signatories). The Act further requires the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance on the teaching of the subject, so granting them considerable power to determine what schools actually teach.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, helped to organise the letter. He said ‘Schools – including faith schools – should be able to cover a reasonable range of religious and cultural perspectives. But it is essential that the sex education provided is accurate, balanced and promotes an acceptance of diversity.

‘Making relationships and sex education compulsory is a welcome and overdue safeguarding measure. However, there remain a range of threats to the provision of factual and inclusive sex education.

‘These include from those who would wish schools to avoid topics such as birth control and accessing sexual health services, and to make others conform to hetronormative notions of gender and sexual orientation. Religious arguments are sometimes misapplied in support of such discriminatory approaches.

‘Currently some schools largely avoid sex education, and these are often faith based. We must avoid especially a situation where such schools provide sex education but start doing so in ways that undermine wider efforts to tackle discrimination and equality.

‘Very many religiously motivated and committed people believe children should be entitled to know how their body works, about risks they may face and where to obtain help, and that they should be able to learn in non-prejudicial environment. We urge the Secretary of State to help ensure these outcomes in the relationships and sex guidance that they are set to issue.’

Currently the only mandatory sex and relationships education in England are cursory requirements for sex education in the Science part of the National Curriculum. Academy schools are freed from these basic requirements, as they do not need to follow the National Curriculum.

A ministerial statement in March announcing that the Government would be supporting compulsory relationships and sex education stated that ‘faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith.’ Although LGBT people are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act, the Act does not cover the content of a school’s curriculum.

Homophobia and transphobia are found to blight many schools, and to be consistently worse within the faith sector. The LGBT equality charity Stonewall last week issued its third five yearly report into the experience of LGBT pupils at British schools. It again found homophobia and transphobia to be noticeably worse at faith schools than all other types of school.

The letter’s signatories – listed below – include sexual health experts, LGBT equality campaigners and clergy, from a wide range of faiths and denominations.

 

Dear Secretary of State,

We congratulate the Government for ensuring – through the Children and Social Work Act 2017 – that relationships and sex education (RSE) will soon be taught in all schools in England. This is an important step in boosting the future health and safety of children and young people. We further note that the Act mandates you to publish regulations and statutory guidance regarding school’s provisions of these subjects.

However, this is open-ended and undefined, with the danger that RSE remains at risk of being hijacked by those who wish to overlook topics such as accessing confidential sexual and reproductive health-care services and contraception, as well as those who wish to limit pupils to what they consider to be religiously acceptable notions of gender and sexual orientation. Schools – including faith schools – should be able to reflect upon a reasonable range of religious and cultural perspectives. But it is essential that the RSE that schools provide is accurate, balanced and promotes an acceptance of diversity.

We therefore urge that new statutory guidance on school’s teaching of RSE should require schools to actively promote the acceptance of LGBT people and provide – for pupils of sufficient maturity – factual information about contraception and abortion. We believe making certain that RSE is inclusive and focuses on ensuring pupils are well-informed should be paramount, so that efforts to ensure their long term well being and to tackle prejudice are not undermined.

Yours sincerely,

  • Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
  • Revd Richard Adfield (CofE)
  • Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (Pastoral Support for LGBT Catholics)
  • Simon Barrow, Director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia
  • Revd Richard Bentley (CofE)
  • Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Chair of the British Muslims for Secular Democracy
  • Revd Canon Steve Chalke MBE (Baptist), Founder & Leader Oasis Community Learning
  • Revd Janet Conway (URC)
  • Revd Roger Cornish (URC)
  • Revd Marie Dove (Methodist)
  • Revd Joe Edwards (CofE)
  • Benjamin Ellis, Chair of the Jewish LGBTQI inclusivity group, KeshetUK
  • Dr Maria Exall (Roman Catholic), Chair of the Cutting Edge Consortium and TUC LGBT+ Committee
  • The Rt Revd Michael Doe, Preacher to Gray’s Inn, former Anglican Bishop of Swindon
  • Revd Canon Jane Fraser (CofE), Sex and Relationships Education specialist and Manager of the sex education charity Bodysense
  • The Rt Revd David Gillett, former Anglican Bishop of Bolton
  • Revd Dr Ruth Gouldbourne, Co-Minister, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, London
  • Cllr Martin Stears-Handscomb (Baptist), Co-Chair of Accepting Evangelicals
  • Savitri Hensman (CofE), equalities adviser in the care sector and writer on Christian social ethics and theology
  • Ruth Hilton, Chair of the Jewish sexual health charity JAT
  • Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz (Leeds Synagogue)
  • Fr David Ingledew (CofE), All Saints, Hove
  • Rabbi Margaret Jacobi  (Birmingham Synagogue)
  • Revd Robert Jennings (URC), Minister at Glenorchy Church, Exmouth
  • The Very Revd Jeffrey John (CofE), Dean of St Albans
  • Revd Richard Jones (CofE), Associate Minister, Hereford Diocese
  • Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner (Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism)
  • Revd Richard Kirker (CofE), LGBTI equality campaigner
  • Revd Dr Jan van der Lely (CofE), Chair of the Modern Church
  • Revd Stephen Lingwood (Unitarian), Minister of the Bank Street Unitarian Chapel, Bolton
  • Jeremy Marks, Director of Courage UK
  • Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
  • Revd Iain McDonald (URC)
  • Rabbi David Mitchell (West London Synagogue)
  • Jayne Ozanne, General Synod member and LGBTI equality campaigner
  • Martin Pendergast (Roman Catholic), Chair of the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality
  • Revd Professor Michael J Reiss (CofE), Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Education Committee 2014/15 Personal, Social and Health Education Inquiry
  • Revd Tim Richards (URC,) Mid Somerset Group
  • Rabbi Danny Rich (Senior Rabbi and Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism)
  • Revd Professor Chris Rowland (CofE), Emeritus Dean Ireland’s Professor of Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford
  • Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah (Brighton Synagogue)
  • Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky (Menorah Synagogue, Manchester)
  • The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby (CofE,) former Anglican Bishop of Worcester
  • Rabbi Sybil Sheridan  (Newcastle Synagogue)
  • Elaine Sommers (CofE), Co-Chair of Accepting Evangelicals
  • Revd Tim Stead (CofE), Vicar, Holy Trinity Headington, Oxford
  • Revd Stephen Terry (CofE), Rector of the Parish of Aldrington, Hove
  • Revd Robert Thompson (CofE)
  • Revd Keith Ward DD FBA (CofE), Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus, Univ. of Oxford
  • The Rt Revd Alan Wilson, Anglican Bishop of Buckingham
  • Revd Clare Wilson (CofE)
  • Revd Simon Wilson (CofE)
  • Revd Dick Wolff (URC), Minister in Oxford

 

Notes
Stonewall’s new study ‘The School Report‘ found that:

  • Two in five LGBT pupils (40%) are never taught anything about LGBT issues at school
  • Just one in five LGBT pupils (20%) have learnt about safe sex in relation to same-sex relationships
  • Three in four LGBT pupils (76%) have never learnt about bisexuality at school
  • Three in four LGBT pupils (77%) have never learnt about gender identity and what ‘trans’ means at school

The study found specifically in regards to faith schools that:

  • 31% of LGBT pupils in faith schools say that teachers and school staff never challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language when they hear it (compared to 22% of those at non-faith schools)
  • 57% of LGBT pupils at faith schools report that their school says homophobic and biphobic bullying is wrong, compared to 68% of LGBT pupils at all types schools as whole
  • 29% of LGBT pupils at faith schools report that their school says transphobic bullying is wrong, compared to 41% of LGBT pupils at all types schools as a whole
  • LGBT pupils of faith are somewhat more likely to have tried to take their own life than those who aren’t of faith (30% compared to 25%

ENDS.

One Response to Interfaith leaders demand sexual health information for children

  1. Lesley de Meza on July 13, 2017 at 8:26 am

    To the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education,
    Thank you all for doing this. Having fought for this for over 30 years, I really appreciate your continuing support.

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