The Government’s controversial sex education plans were forced through the Commons yesterday, but critics slammed a faith schools amendment as an “incoherent muddle”.
Labour used its control of the chamber to rush the Children, Schools and Families Bill through, but the Tories and the Lib Dems opposed it as centralising and bureaucratic.
Under the Bill, sex education will become part of the national curriculum and control over the content of lessons will be taken away from school governors and given to Whitehall officials.
All publicly-funded schools will be forced to teach children how to access contraception and abortion services.
The schools will also be forced to teach children that unmarried unions are equal to marriage.
But the Government, concerned about a backlash from faith schools, amended its own proposals to say that while faith schools must teach these things, they may do so “in a way” that reflects their religious ethos.
This led to several days of claims and counter-claims in the media about the effect of the amendment.
Humanists and the Lib Dems said it amounted to a blanket opt-out for faith schools.
But others said the amendment was just “window dressing” and it did nothing to alter the fact that faith schools will be forced to teach lessons which directly contradict the schools’ beliefs.
The Children’s Secretary Ed Balls was forced to admit: “There is no opt-out for any faith school” but he said faith schools “can explain the views of their faith”.
Writing on the Spectator website, commentator Melanie Phillips called it an “incoherent muddle” and a “totally unworkable amendment, which faces two ways at once”.
She said: “Considering that the Catholic Church, for example, regards contraception as a sin, abortion as murder and civil union as a perversion of marriage, it is hard to envisage how Catholic schools could teach such matters in accordance with their own religious precepts. Indeed, it is impossible.
“It would mean, for example, teaching girls that they had a right to abortion and here was the address and phone number of the local abortion clinic, but that abortion was forbidden by Catholic teaching as being akin to murder.
“What Balls was saying was therefore demonstrably absurd. Surely he couldn’t have meant to propose such an incoherent muddle? Oh, but he did. The division he made, risible as it is, does indeed constitute the policy.”
But she warned: “the real significance of this appalling piece of legislation goes far beyond this particular row over this amendment, and far beyond the particular difficulties to be faced by faith schools and the ludicrous hoops through which they are now expected to jump.
“For it means that in all schools, parents will now find that their children are to be indoctrinated in a set of ‘non-judgmental’ assumptions about sexual activity that many may find questionable or objectionable – but by law these assumptions may not deviate from the doctrines laid down by the Inquisitors at the Department for Children Schools and Families.”
The Government may run out of time to get the Bill through the House of Lords before a General Election is called.
If so, the Opposition will have an opportunity to block it in the horse trading that goes on in final throes of a parliament.