The Government’s new guidelines on teaching sex education are being criticised by OutRage! as “weak and insufficiently inclusive”.
The guidance to teachers is set out in an amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill. It gives prominence to teaching about “marriage and permanent relationships”.
“The guidelines are not inclusive enough. They do not oblige schools to provide pupils with gay sex education and safer sex advice. To safeguard their well-being, gay students need specific, affirmative information about homosexuality and HIV prevention. The guidelines do not require schools to provide this information. That is a weakness”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
“Instead of the reference to marriage, we would prefer neutral guidance stating that teaching about sex and relationships should emphasize the importance of mutual consent, respect, fulfilment and commitment.
“This formulation would cover everyone — married and unmarried, gay and straight, and those inside and outside traditional family relationships.
“OutRage! supports the principle of legally-binding guidelines to compel schools to provide open, honest, nonjudgemental information about homosexuality and gay safer sex. Without this legal requirement, most schools will continue to evade their responsibility to safeguard the emotional and physical health of lesbian and gay students. Because gay issues are viewed as a political hot potato, teachers will err on the side of caution and neglect the needs of gay pupils.
“Some teachers are themselves homophobic, whilst many others feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped to talk about homosexuality.
“To ensure impartial, effective education on gay issues, teachers need to receive specialist training on how to discuss homosexuality and gay safer sex in the classroom”, said Mr. Tatchell.
Excerpt from the Draft Guidelines
1.30 It is up to schools to make sure that the needs of all pupils are met in their programmes. Young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that it is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment is clear that teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support. There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation.
1.31 Sexual orientation and what is taught in schools is an area of concern for some parents. Schools that liaise closely with parents when developing their sex and relationship education policy and programme should be able to reassure parents of the content of the programme and the context in which it will be presented.
1.32 Guidance issued by the Department (Social Inclusion: Pupil Support Circular 10/99) dealt with the unacceptability of and emotional distress and harm caused by bullying in whatever form – be it racial, as a result of a pupil’s appearance, related to sexual orientation or for any other reason.
Alan Milburn (Health Secretary) and Baroness Jay (Minister for Women and a former health minister) have formally complained to Mr. Blunkett about the requirement for teachers to promote marriage in schools; and Chris Smith (Culture Secretary) has also contacted Mr. Blunkett to raise concerns that the Government is replacing Section 28 with a clause putting a legally-binding duty on teachers to promote heterosexuality.
In Scotland Donald Gorrie MSP, Local Government Spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has rejected calls that the Scottish Executive should follow the example of Westminster. — “It is wrong for a few bishops to be involved in drafting the actual wording of a Bill with Ministers. Who have the bishops consulted? … When it comes to Section 28 it is the views of young people that we should be listening to. They are more relevant to the issue than a small group of bishops.”