Faith schools should not have sex lesson freedom

Humanists and the Lib Dems have both attacked a Government bid to protect the freedom of faith schools to teach sex education in keeping with their beliefs.

Faith schools are at risk because the Government’s plans for sex education are so radical, but its attempt to offer reassurance has come under attack from all sides.

The British Humanist Association and the Liberal Democrats are unhappy with the Government’s effort, which they see as a sop.

But faith school supporters say the Government’s attempt to defend faith schools is simply “window-dressing” because it will not alter the curriculum.

The Government amendment will allow faith schools to teach sex education in a way that reflects the religious character of the school. But it will not alter the content of lessons, which will still be dictated from Whitehall.

The problem has arisen because of the Government’s far-reaching plans to change the law on sex education, centralising control in the hands of officials in London.

It wants to force children to be taught that cohabitation and homosexual civil partnerships should be valued on a par with marriage. It also wants to insist that schools teach children about contraception.

Faith schools are concerned that the plans do not sufficiently take account of religious beliefs on sexual conduct or reproductive ethics.

The Government amendment aims to offer some reassurance to faith schools, although there is doubt as to how much protection it will actually give.

Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust said: “Schools with a religious foundation would be required to present the teaching of their own faith as no more than one view among many.

“Under the Government’s proposals, while faith schools would not be prevented from teaching sex education in a way that reflects the school’s character, at the same time they would be required to teach it in a way that is completely at variance with the school’s faith position.”

“The new amendment would not change any of this,” he added.

Paul Tully of pro-life group SPUC said: “The amendment makes no difference to what must be taught in schools.

“It only restates the principle that allows faith schools teach sex education ‘in a way’ that reflects the school’s religious character.

“The Liberal Democrats and secularists have confused the ‘way’ sex education is taught with the content.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families confirmed that: “Faith schools cannot opt out of statutory sex and relationships education lessons when it comes into effect in September 2011.”

Nevertheless, Liberal Democrat Children’s spokesman David Laws said the amendment was “a serious and undesirable U-turn”.

And Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association claimed the amendment effectively gave a licence to faith schools to teach sex education in ways that were homophobic, gender discriminatory and violated principles of human rights.