Sexuality education under threat from disinformation campaigns, warns Council of Europe chief

July 22, 2020

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner on Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, has warned that sexuality education in schools across Europe, including the UK, is under serious threat from the rise of disinformation campaigns, whose authors often claim justification on religious grounds. She also believes that these attempts are indicative of wider efforts to suppress the rights of women and LGBT+ people. Offering her views this week in a blog post on the Council of Europe website, the Commissioner warns that ‘campaigns have multiplied across the continent, disseminating distorted or misleading information about existing sexuality education curricula.’

Responding to her intervention, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘The provision of sex education in Britain has long been frustrated by a lobby which, in spite of evidence showing the beneficial effects of age appropriate teaching of this topic at all key stages, has sought to frustrate or delay how and when information regarding human sexuality is presented in schools. The Commissioner’s comments serve as an important reminder that erroneous and manipulative tactics are often employed by opponents of sexuality education. She also highlights a worrying link between these efforts and a broader opposition to the full human rights of children, LGBT+ people and women.’

Relationships Education becomes compulsory in all schools in England in September and means children will learn about the building blocks of healthy, respectful relationships, focusing on family and friendships. Mijatovic’s comments follow a report just this week in The Sunday Telegraph about a nascent campaign group threatening the Government with a judicial review unless it allows parents to withdraw their children from Relationships Education.

Furthermore, Ofsted has continued to come under pressure this year for downgrading primary schools that do not acknowledge the existence of LGBT+ people. This has included, among others, the influential think tank Policy Exchange (in February) and a backbench Conservative Peer, Lord Polak (in May). This is despite state funded schools being obligated under the Public Sector Equality Duty to promote understanding between people of different protected characteristics listed by the Equality Act, which include gender reassignment, sex and sexual orientation. Similarly, independent schools are required to provide a curriculum that is ‘designed to encourage respect for other people, with particular regard to the protected characteristics’.

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Notes
The Council of Europe was established in 1949 to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. Despite having left the EU, the UK is a member group, along with all countries in Europe, except Belarus.

The Commissioner’s blog post cites the protests last year outside Anderton Park School in Birmingham as an example of the renewed resistance to sexuality education. She also praises the proposal put forward by the Welsh Government this year to prevent parents withdrawing their children from Relationship and Sexuality Education lessons in state funded schools.

The Accord Coalition has long campaigned for the provision of age appropriate and inclusive sex education in schools in England and Wales. In 2017 it organised an open letter from 53 religious activists and clergy in support of all schools in England teaching about contraception, abortion and promoting acceptance of LGBT+ people. Following the Birmingham school protests in 2019, Accord co-organised with the British Muslims for Secular Democracy an open letter from 78 civic leaders that called for the UK Government to provide greater ‘moral and regulatory support’ for schools promoting acceptance towards people of different backgrounds and characteristics, especially LGBT+ people.

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