Parental rights, schools and sex education

The organisation Family and Youth Concern provide an excellent short guide to help parents understand their situation and their rights:

“The law states that schools must provide a balanced and broadly-based curriculum which:

(a) promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of
pupils at the school and of society and

(b) prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences
of adult life.

All maintained schools are required to produce a written statement of their policy with regard to the provision of sex education. They are also required to ‘make copies of the statement available for inspection (at all reasonable times) by parents of registered pupils at the school and provide
a copy of the statement free of charge to any such parent who asks for one’.

In the case of primary schools, there is no requirement to provide sex education. The policy may simply state that no sex education is given beyond aspects of reproduction covered in the science curriculum. Secondary schools, however, are required to provide sex education for all registered pupils at the school, including education about AIDS and HIV and any other sexually transmitted disease.

However, these specific areas, together with aspects of human sexual behaviour other
than biological aspects may not be taught as part of national curriculum science, but must be treated as a separate subject.

Local authorities, governing bodies and headteachers are required to ensure that sex education is given ‘in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life’.

In addition, headteachers and school governors must have regard to government guidance intended to ensure that children:

(a) learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children, and
(b) are protected from teaching and materials which are inappropriate having regard to the age and the religious and cultural background of the pupils concerned.

Parents have the legal right to withdraw their children from all or any part of sex education provision. A statement to this effect must be included within the school’s policy statement. Parents are not, however, entitled to remove their children from any areas covered by the national curriculum.”

Life would add to this the following:

(a) It is highly important for pupils to be informed of the evidence that marriage provides a more secure basis for child-rearing and relationship stability than other forms of relationship .
(b) Information about positive parenting is in need of more emphasis. We ought to stress the irreplaceable role of parents and guardians in RSE, and their right to have input on the content and context of RSE would be an excellent step. This concept could perhaps be extended to stress the links between sexual activity and parenthood, i.e. pupils should be encouraged to consider whether they are ready for possible parenthood before beginning sexual activity, given the inextricable ink between sex and reproduction.
(c) We should emphasise in a more authoritative way that relationships are the ideal and normal place for sexual activity rather than simply one option among many. The current guidelines on relationships and sex clearly emphasise the need not just for consent, but for respect and consideration in sexual relationships. Pupils should be reminded of other considerations around consent:

1. that consent is just one criterion for healthy sexual activity and does not legitimise all forms of sexual activity. For instance, research suggests that early sexual intercourse, even when consented to, is often regretted. Pupils should be made aware of this.
2. That the UK maintains an age of consent for sexual activity – 16.
3. Sometimes “negotiation” of contraception is discussed as part of consent. Pupils should not be given the mistaken idea that contraception represents a magic bullet solution to STIs, pregnancy etc.

Local schools are the most appropriate and accessible forum for parents and teachers to come together and discuss the needs and priorities of particular children and communities. For instance, a parent who has concerns is more likely to be able to discuss those concerns frankly and sensitively and constructively with a teacher with whom s/he has an existing relationship than with someone who is not actively involved in their children’s education. Parents have already been excluded from many areas of meaningful decision-making concerning their children’s sexual health – their under-16-year-olds can access abortion and contraception without their knowledge or consent, which amounts to the state being complicit in systematic deceit. Parents should not be further alienated from the moral education of their children. Central government and education authorities have a long record of promoting materials for RSE which are unacceptable or unsuitable.

Whether or not particular children are ready for any kind of RSE is a judgment call that only those closest to those children can really make. It is best handled on a local level where those who are most involved and most knowledgeable about the situation can co-operate.

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