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UK: Squeamish, divisive and trad – campaigners’ verdict on sex education

Image: The Telegraph

A planned overhaul of sex education in British schools is squeamish, conservative, and caters more to boys than girls and LBGT+ pupils, according to feedback on the government proposals, as a consultation period ended on Wednesday.

The government wants sex education to be compulsory at all schools in England, and this year began working on the first major reforms to sex and relationship guidance for 18 years.

“What has been proposed is extremely squeamish about the real lives that young people are living and does not factor in the needs of girls, young women and LGBT+ people”, said Rachel Krys, co-director of campaign group, End Violence Against Women.

“Instead it puts far too much emphasis on the concerns of traditional and conservative voices”, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Other critics cited a lack of clarity on LGBT+ topics and abusive relationships, and took issue with the leeway given to religious schools to teach a “distinctive faith perspective on relationships”.

The Department for Education said the new draft guidance would ensure children were taught “age-appropriate content”.

“We will reflect on feedback from the consultation to make sure the draft guidance is clear and supports all young people,” said a spokesman.

David Meyer, executive director for the Jewish schools support network PaJes, denied the guidance allowed schools to avoid LGBT+ topics, and teach abstinence-based lessons.

“It is the duty of school to teach respect and tolerance to all, but I think there is a right to religious principles,” he said.

“Far from it being guidance that gives too much credence to religious views, I think … there is a duty for schools to be teaching a certain level of sexual morality.”

The plan had been to introduce compulsory education, but the draft guidance says primary schools, which teach children up to age 11, do not have to teach sex education, and parents can also remove their child from classes up to age 15.

Campaigners also criticised concessions to faith schools, fearing the promotion of marriage and of a moral stance on issues from abstinence to same-sex relationships.

LGBT+ charity, Stonewall said the document failed children, by omitting any teaching about LGBT+ families at primary level.

“It’s vital schools understand the importance of LGBT inclusion, and their legal duties not to discriminate against LGBT people, and we need the new guidance to reflect this,” said Laura Russell, head of policy at Stonewall.

Women’s groups protested at plans to make optional any teaching around the subject of forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Schools should also be told to address the law on abuse, pornography and gender stereotypes more directly and from a young age, they said.

“The impact is for our society as a whole,” said Jacqui Hunt, a director at women’s rights organisation Equality Now.

“If we want to live in a society where everyone is respected, treated equally and allowed to be their best then these messages have to go out at an early age.”

-Sonia Elks, Thomson Reuters Foundation

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