Relationships and Sex Education legal challenge thrown out

January 9, 2021

A legal challenge supported by a faith-based campaign coalition that opposes compulsory sex education has been thrown out by the High Court. The Court handed down its ruling before Christmas and rejected the request for a judicial review of regulations and statutory guidance requiring schools in England to provide Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) on the grounds that the challenge had been brought too late.

Applications for judicial reviews must usually be submitted within three months of the relevant decision or action by a public body having been made, whereas the regulations and the Government’s statutory guidance on RSE were published in 2019. In addition to ruling that the application was out of time, the Court also offered damning views on the substance of the challenge.

Before the Government’s statutory RSE guidance took effect in September 2020, parents of children at state funded schools could withdraw their children from sex education (beyond that provided as part of the Science section of the National Curriculum). Since then, however, parents have only been able to withdraw their child from sex education up to and until three terms before their child turns 16, while the guidance requires secondary schools to provide LGBT content.

The Court rejected as ‘unarguable’ the appellant’s claim that the Education Secretary had failed to consider the impact of teaching about LGBT content for people of religious backgrounds. It also stated that it did not consider that their other ‘… underlying arguments have any serious, or realistic, prospect of success’. The claimants had argued making RSE compulsory undermined the right of parents to ensure their children could be educated in accordance with their own religious or philosophical convictions and thus that the state was sanctioning indoctrination.

The challenge had been brought by three parents of school age children and a representative of the ecumenical Let Kids Be Kids Coalition, which was set up in 2020 and opposes compulsory RSE. The Let Kids Be Kids Coalition announced shortly before Christmas that it would seek to challenge the High Court’s ruling in the Court of Appeal.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘It is little surprise that the legal challenge failed, but it serves as a reminder of threats posed by opponents of LGBT inclusive education or by those who do not recognise RSE as an important safeguarding measure. Although outnumbered, opponents are increasingly engaging in coalition building. This, in turn, provides further reason for Accord to maintain and renew its approach of bringing together and amplifying the voice of the majority who want state funded schools to be inclusive.’

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