Government intervenes regarding anachronistic Catholic school sex education resource

July 2, 2021

The Accord Coalition has congratulated the Department for Education for challenging the use of a Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) teaching resource for Catholic schools provided by the ‘A Fertile Heart: Receiving and Giving Creative Love’ programme. The materials have been produced by a group of Catholic educators and endorsed by the Archbishop of Cardiff.

In January detailed information on the inappropriateness of the resource was revealed by the Accord Coalition member group, Humanists UK. Problems with the material include it stereotyping on the grounds of sex, lacking respect for LGBT people, and offering factually dubious information about contraception.

For example, a resource for Key Stage 4 pupils encourages Catholic schools to teach that biological arguments show men are ‘created to initiate sexual relationships’ and women to be ‘receiver-responders’. Elsewhere, a video from the American Catholic campaigner Jason Evert is put forward as a classroom or homework activity, who argues gay and lesbian people should abstain from sex and likens same sex marriage to polygamy. (p17) The resource also contends that there is ‘there is no such thing as “safe” sex’. (p25)

The Minister for Schools, The Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, initially declined to criticize or acknowledge that A Fertile Heart was inappropriate when asked about it in Parliament back in November 2020. However, the Minister has revealed in a letter published by Humanists UK and last month sent to the Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, Jesse Norman, that he would be writing to the publishers of the resource and the ‘Archbishop of Cardiff’ to set out ‘serious concerns’.

The letter reveals that the Minister believed the only secondary school in England to have so far used the teaching resource was in Jesse Norman MP’s constituency. It also discloses the Minister’s belief that the teaching resource ‘contains content that would be hard for a school to present in a school setting in a way that is consistent with the RSHE statutory guidance’.

The statutory guidance has taken effect in all schools in England during the current 2020/21 academic year, to coincide with RSE being made compulsory. The Minister’s letter goes onto infer that the ‘A Fertile Heart’ resource contravenes the guidance for providing inaccurate and alarming information about the effect of contraception on girls and by promoting gender stereotypes, which the Minister warns could risk normalising ‘non-consensual behaviour or encourage prejudice’.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Revd Stephen Terry said ‘Only last month Ofsted warned that sexual abuse is a normal part of the life of young people and commended high quality RSE as a keyway to tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence. It is deeply worrying that a resource has been sent to schools that promote attitudes which could increase the risk of sexual violence along with prejudice towards people on the grounds of sex and sexuality.’

‘It is disappointing that Church authorities have not publicly intervened to prevent inappropriate teaching, but it is to be welcomed that the Department for Education is doing so to uphold its statutory guidance. It is commendable and, given the support the resource has received from Archbishop of Cardiff, it is to be hoped that the Welsh Government will also pursue a similar approach regarding schools in its jurisdiction.’

This Spring the Welsh Senedd passed the Curriculum and Assessment Act 2021 which makes Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) compulsory in all state funded schools. Draft RSE guidance that the Welsh Government has recently proposed appears to conflict with the ‘A Fertile Heart’ programme in similar ways to England’s statutory RSE guidance.

For example, the Welsh Government’s draft guidance requires RSE to be factual and balanced, stating that ‘in practice, all schools and settings must teach RSE in a neutral, factual way. Where questions of values arise, they must present learners with different perspectives on a range of views on issues commonly held within society.’ (p8) Elsewhere RSE is framed as having an important role in combating violence, noting that students may need to be supported to ‘have the knowledge to recognise discrimination and violence, including Violence against Women and Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence’. (p12)

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