Chris Bryant’s Sex and Relationships Education Bill
The Bill that I’ve been asked to talk about on Sunday has now been published prior to it’s second reading in the Commons today. You can read it for yourself here and for reference, the current (amended) version of the relevant sections of 1996 Education Act is here.
The effect of Chris Bryant’s Bill is to change the sex education sections to read as follows.
403 Sex education: manner of provision.
(1)â€œThe governing body or other proprietor of any school to which this section applies, and its head teacher, must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that sex and relationships education is given to registered pupils at the school and that at a maintained school, it is given in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life.
(1ZA) The schools to which this section applies areâ€”
(a) maintained schools;
(b) city technology colleges;
(c) city colleges for the technology of the arts;
A reference in this section or section 404 to the governing body of a school, in relation to a school within paragraph (b), (c) or (d), shall be read as a reference to the proprietor of the school.â€
(1A)The Secretary of State must issue guidance designed to secure that â€œwhen sex and relationships education is given to registered pupils at schools to which this section appliesâ€”
(a)they learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children, and learn the nature of civil partnership and the importance of strong and stable relationships.
(1B)In discharging their functions under subsection (1) governing bodies and head teachers must have regard to the Secretary of Stateâ€™s guidance.
(1C)Guidance under subsection (1A) must include guidance about any material which may be produced by NHS bodies for use for the purposes of sex and relationships education in schools.
(1D)The Secretary of State may at any time revise his guidance under subsection (1A).
(2)In this section â€œmaintained schoolâ€ includes a community or foundation special school established in a hospital and â€œNHS bodyâ€ has the same meaning as in section 22 of the National Health Service Act 1977.
404 Sex education: statements of policy.
(1)The governing body of a maintained school shallâ€”
(a)make, and keep up to date, a separate written statement of their policy with regard to the provision of sex education, and
(b)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.
(1A)A statement under subsection (1) must include a statement of the effect of section 405.
(2)In subsection (1) â€œmaintained schoolâ€ includes, in relation to pupils who are provided with secondary education, a community or foundation special school established in a hospital.
405 Exemption from sex education.
(1) If a pupil of sufficient maturity in attendance at a school to which section 403 applies requests to be wholly or partly excused from receiving sex and relationships education at the school, the pupil shall be so excused accordingly until the request is withdrawn.
(2) The Secretary of State must in regulations define â€œsufficient maturityâ€.
(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (2) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(4) The Secretary of State must lay draft regulations before Parliament before the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.â€.
The three main changes are as follows.
- The addition of teaching about “the nature of civil partnership and the importance of strong and stable relationships”.
To be honest, I can’t see a problem with this. We live in a society that has civil partnerships and nothing in the newly proposed wording of the Education Act goes further than simply teaching children that two people of the same sex can enter into such a union. There is no statutory requirement to “promote” it any further than simply to acknowledge it’s existence. We need to accept the fact that 21st Century Britain has such people and such unions, and indeed, for some who identify as gay this is an excellent way to provide for those that they love. At present we have no hard evidence that Civil Partnerships provide better or worse outcomes than marriage for the individuals involved and their children.
- The removal of the right of parents to remove their children from any sex education provided by the school they attend.
This is a serious issue. At present, parents can remove their children from the sex education that do not want them to attend and they can do this at any age. The amendments to the 1996 Act proposed by Bryant mean that a child can only be withdrawn on their own volition (not the parents’) and that that can only happen if they are of “sufficient maturity”. The meaning of “sufficient maturity” is left to be defined by regulations set out by the Secretary of State. As yet, Mr Bryant has not laid out what he thinks a good definition of “sufficiently mature” is.
What this change means is that children of at least primary school age (I cannot see a definition of “sufficiently mature” that will cover children under the age of 12) will be compelled to undertake the sex and relationships education that the governing body of their school approves, even if their parents object. The governing body can approve whatever curriculum they want and, though it is highly unlikely, this can include discussion of sex during Key Stage 1 and the promotion of the “rightness” of a particular view on sexual morals (and the denigrating of other views) that are at odds with the view that the parent wishes to teach their child.
- The removal of the right of church schools and others to amend their provided sex education to bring it into line with the doctrines of their religion
At the moment church schools can tailor their sex education to fit their beliefs. For example, a number of Roman Catholic schools put abstinence at the fore in their teaching on contraception. Other Christian (and other faith) schools do not attempt to promote abortion or other destructive practices on the newly fertilised child. Chris Bryant’s proposals change that and remove the discretion in this area that Governing bodies have had for decades. It is a direct attack on the principal of the 1944 Education Act when institutions like the Church of England gave the State the schools that they had built and maintained in exchange for a permanent majority on the governing body AND the right to set the ethos of the school.
- Last, but most importantly, it is a fundamental shift in the relationship between individual and state as to the formation of sexual morality.
At present, the law assumes that the primary responsibility for sex and relationships education lies with the parents and guardians of a child. Whilst schools may offer sex and relationships education to children in their care, when a parent allows their child to attend such classes it is on the basis that the parent agrees to delegate this responsibility to the education establishment they attend. With the power to remove their child from such sessions, the parent/guardian remains the one with the ultimate authority to provide a moral framework for their child’s sexual life.
Chris Bryant’s proposals make the State the institution with the legal right and final authority to provide a moral framework for children. The inability of parents to remove their child from a class on sex and relationships education mean that in this area the School can educate children in a manner directly contradictory to the parents’ wishes and their is no legal recourse. The non-definition of the term “sufficient maturity” can easily allow a Secretary of State, if s/he was so minded, to raise the bar so high for a child’s absence from these classes that all children are de facto mandated to attend. This cannot be anything but a trampling on the religious rights of the child and his/her parents or guardians, as children are “indoctrinated” into the view of the State and there is simply no way that parents can avoid this.