There has been a lot of push recently for LGBT-inclusive sex education to be compulsory learning in schools in the UK, but unfortunately that has been blocked by the Conservatives.
There have been repeated suggestions from Education Secretary Justine Greening that she is open to the reform of sex education, saying that the issue was at the top of her “in tray”.
There was an attempt made to secure the issue by a group of MPs led by Labour’s Stella Creasy, where they tabled an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill to make “sex and relationships education, same-sex relationships, sexual consent, sexual violence, and domestic violence” mandatory in all schools.
The amendments would have required Ofsted to look at a school’s SRE provisions as part of their inspections, and would have had to consider “whether the information provided to pupils is accurate and balanced, age-appropriate, inclusive, or religiously diverse”.
However, the amendments were denied by the government in a heavily Tory controlled vote. They held 10 of the 15 votes recorded on the issue. We saw a clean split of votes down party lines, will all 10 Conservatives voting against it and all five Labour MPs voted for it. There was no representation of other parties on the bill committee.
According to Conservative MP for North Dorset, Simon Hoare the amendments did not include enough protections for religious schools who oppose homosexuality.
Hoare said: “Some form of protection is needed for those who run faith schools, all faiths, to make the position absolutely clear. I have little or no doubt that I will receive emails from constituents who happen to read my remarks. They will say that this is all about promotion, and this or that religion thinks that homosexuality—or another element—is not right.”
“To provide a legislative comfort blanket, for want of a better phrase, the new clause needs to include a clear statement that we are talking not about promotion, but about education, and where sex education is delivered in a faith school environment, those providing the education should not feel inhibited about answering questions such as ‘What is the thinking of our faith on this particular aspect of sexuality?'”
These concerns were backed up with support from Junior Education Minister Edward Timpson: “We must attempt to allow everybody with a view a chance to make their case. It is a sensitive issue, as everyone is aware, but we want to ensure that we bring as many people with us as possible.”
He also said that “there are lots of repercussions that need to be thought through”.
He continued: “We hear the call for further action on PSHE and we have committed to exploring all the options to improve delivery of SRE and PSHE. We are actively looking at how best to address both the quality of delivery and accessibility to ensure that all children can be supported to develop positive, healthy relationships and to thrive in modern Britain today. We welcome the support in delivering this in a timely and considered manner.”
“The Secretary of State herself has made this a personal priority, as we have heard, and we will be able to say more at a later stage in the Bill about how the Government intend to secure provision that is fit for purpose, inclusive and supports all young people growing up in our country today.”
“We are unanimous that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools in any form is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. We are much more alive to that and need to make sure that that is properly reflected in the way that we equip children in future.”
Ms Creasy, however, was keen to point out that our sex education is in dire need of reform as at the moment, 40% of schools in the country are failing to provide adequate SRE to their students.
She said: “At the moment, sex education is mandatory in terms of the biology of sex. In the biology curriculum, we teach young people about reproduction, but we do not teach them about relationships.”
“That is where the risk comes in and where the gap in our safeguarding procedures exists. At the moment, we only have sex and relationship education across our schools in a very patchy way. Some schools are doing amazing work, and we should recognise that, but safeguarding only works if every young child has access to information, training and support.”
“Ofsted found in 2013 that 40% of schools required improvement or were inadequate in their provision of sex and relationship education. That means millions of children in our schools right now are simply not getting the right sort of information about relationships, consent and sensitive issues such as their relationships with the other sex and with the same sex, domestic violence and abuse, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.”
It is a real shame that Ms Creasy’s amendment has been denied, as there is a strong argument to be made not only for LGBT-inclusivity to be a part of SRE, but also education on such topics as domestic violence and forced marriage. The latter two unfortunately still take place around the world, so the more education we can provide, the more people will be able to recognise the signs and get out of a potentially dangerous situation.
Of course, proper education is also one of the keys to putting an end to the stigma surrounding same-sex relationships that still persists to this day, as well as provide education to any closeted LGBT people who might be going through a confusing time.