Faith schools could be given chance to opt out of providing effective sex education

// 19 February 2010

The Catholic Education Service claim that their campaigning has led to Ed Balls tabling an amendment to the Children, Schools and Families Bill regarding Sex and Relationships Education that could effectively enable faith schools to opt out of providing sex education based on facts rather than religious dictats. The amendment states that the following sections of the Bill “are not to be read as preventing the governing body or head teacher of a [faith] school from causing or allowing PSHE to be taught in a way that reflects the school’s religious character”:

…information presented in the course of providing PSHE should be accurate and balanced.

…PSHE should be taught in a way that is appropriate to the ages of the pupils concerned and to their religious and cultural backgrounds, and also reflects a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives.

…PSHE should be taught in a way that endeavours to promote equality, encourages acceptance of diversity, and emphasises the importance of both rights and responsibilities.

In other words, the school’s religious convictions – which could include viewing homosexuality, sex before marriage and contraception use as sins – would be allowed to override the need to provide accurate, fair and inclusive sex education.

This is appalling (and how sad is it that the Catholic campaigners feel threatened by ‘accurate and balanced information’ and ‘equality and diversity’?). The state school system should exist to provide all children with a comprehensive education that values and respects their rights and identities and those of others and encourages free thought; it should not be making concessions to religious leaders who have their own – potentially harmful – agenda. Personally, I think religious faith should have no place in the running of state schools, but given that things are unlikely to change any time soon, the Education Secretary should at least be ensuring that children who do attend these schools do not miss out on essential parts of their education and are not fed faith-based lies about such important issues as contraception and sexual relationships.

The British Humanist Association have more information and details of how you can ask your MP to vote against the amendment, which is due to be debated in Parliament this coming Tuesday 23 February.

Comments From You

gadgetgal // Posted 19 February 2010 at 3:22 pm

Terrible – I’ve said on this site before I have no problem with people having whatever faith they want, but I’m a strong secularist and I don’t believe it has any place in the classroom, especially if it might negatively affect sex education. It’s taken years to get to the stage where they’re even allowed to mention things like same sex relationships, to give some kind of opt out clause now will set us right back again!!

Elmo // Posted 19 February 2010 at 4:49 pm

This gets my goat almost as much as the parents who send their children to these schools, because they dont want them to “be taught homosexuality”.

They are still labouring under the delusion that being gay is a choice, that it is learned behaviour, and that it is wrong. I mean, HOW after years of scientists, etc telling us that being gay is, like being straight, JUST THE WAY PEOPLE ARE, how can these people still beleive this? Well, I suspect they dont beleive it, they just want to ignore it and hope it goes away.

Whats more they confuse “being taught homosexuality” with “being taught how accept homosexuals”. I hope to god none of these peoples children do turn out to be gay, because if so, the’re in for hell.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 19 February 2010 at 5:07 pm

I went to Catholic school and we were only taught the bits of sex ed that fitted in with Catholic teaching (masturbation is dangerous, condoms are less effective as contraception than the ‘safe period’ method, you can imagine). To the point that we weren’t taught part of the GCSE biology syllabus because it was about how various forms of contraception worked.

Bernie // Posted 19 February 2010 at 5:33 pm

I went to a Catholic school too. The first year we were given this sex education (and I use that term loosely) booklet thing written by a nun (!) who wrote stuff like, ‘the man loves the woman so much that he…’ It was hilarious. And then we had a priest come to talk to us about relationships, can you imagine. Everybody just laughed. We did have a good biology teacher though (not a nun!) who told us about sex in a very matter of fact way, and answered our questions. She was great. I don’t know how long she would have lasted if some Sister Mary Bunloaf had sat in on one of her classes. The nuns tried to get one teacher to leave because she was going to marry a divorced man! Also, one girl got pregnant (at 16) and they tried to make her marry the father (also 16).

Basically I think – and hope, although of course that’s not good enough – that most teenagers will be able to think and find out stuff for themselves and realise that a lot of what they get told at ‘faith’ school is indoctrination.

Anne Onne // Posted 19 February 2010 at 7:22 pm

NO. Children, especially when they’re of an age when they may well be engaging in this behaviour deserve the right to make up their minds for themselves. It is every child’s (especially teenager’s) right to knowledge about the world around them and about their own bodies. Parents and schools may indeed be trying to do the best for their children, but it’s still not up to them to decide what their teenager will think or what they will do in their entire life.

I don’t care if, in the religious education lessons, they go back to teaching religious opinions that many of us consider wrong. As they say, they have a right to explain their beliefs to children in their religious community.

Just not in lessons DESIGNED to give children a wider perspective of the world. This is about the rights of children to make their choice about whether to be religious. And children of the age to be affected by this are able to make their own opinions, they do not merely soak up whatever they are told.

Really, how much faith does one have in their own faith if merely the idea of a child learning about what a condom is makes them believe children will run off to become devil-worshipping baby-eating homosexuals. If your way of thinking is REALLY right (or the right thing for the kid) surely you should have the faith that after looking at both sides the kids will choose rightly. Anything else isn’t education it’s indoctrination.

gadgetgal // Posted 19 February 2010 at 7:40 pm

Done it – if you go to the website it’s easy, they have most of the text laid out and you can add or take out whatever you want, then fill in your details and they send it to your MP for you.

Worth it!

Redheadinred // Posted 19 February 2010 at 10:52 pm

You know, if faith schools don’t do PSHE, they’re really not missing much. It was bollocks when I had it. The sex ed left much to be desired, even though there was good information – but they used the classic ‘spat-out candy’ routine on us to prove that we were supposedly spoiled if we had sex before marriage. They also used the whole ‘ABC’ (Abstinence, be faithful, use a condom) thing, which is heteronormative (where’s the information on how women can have safe sex together?), makes non-monogamy seem like a deadly sin and doesn’t even acknowledge different forms of protection and contraception. And where was the talk of consent and what you can do about sexual abuse? Where was the acknowledgement that everyone has the right to give their consent, whether or not they’re married or straight or monogamous? And this wasn’t a faith school, it was a normal school. To be fair, the people who came to give us sex ed were religious. But the so-called ‘comprehensive’ sex ed usually isn’t. I do believe a lot of the things that were lacking here are also lacking elsewhere in the country (and the world). The rest of PSHE was to do with filling out silly worksheets, despite us being seventeen or eighteen years’ old. Nobody liked it, but the government said so, so we did it. Still, if it’s gonna be done, it may as well not be plain homophobic or misogynistic, so I support writing to MPs about this. But just saying, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a school with a good sex ed curriculum…

Ally // Posted 20 February 2010 at 2:26 am

I really don’t see why this is a problem. There is no reason why the state has any better claim to be the arbiter of what children learn at school than the church (or rather the parents). I think the right of parents to decide what their children are learning whether that it is in the classroom or through home-schooling is an important veto on the often dubious decisions made by the state about learning.

Laura // Posted 20 February 2010 at 10:30 am

@ Redheadinred, I agree sex education has been terrible in the past, but part of the reason for making it compulsory was to improve it, bring in new standards and cover new areas so I hope it will get better.

v // Posted 20 February 2010 at 11:44 am

what redheadinred and ally said.

does anyone else remember getting anything worthwhile out of sex wd, pshe, psme, whatever they called it when you were in school?

the government is constantly bringing in ‘new standards’ in schools, but judging by their performance so far, id have to strongly disagree with laura – i have no hope whatsoever that they will improve anything at all. it’s all one great big experiment theyve been carrying out on us and our kids.

all they are really doing with this new forced sex ed is setting a precedent – they want to be able to force their curriculum on all children regardless of what school or parent or child might want. you can see this all over their current Children Schools and Families bill. there are some very dangerous things afoot.

i have two kids and im honest with them both about sex and relationships. we home ed though, and i have to say, one of the last things i’d want is for my kids to have to learn about sex from this government – i have a funny feeling a whole lot of prejudice is going to be packed into those lessons, and very little honesty.

kids need access to information. they don’t need indoctrination. what the government is offering is the latter. the church is no different.

those who want more power for the state wrt education and less with parents and schools themselves – what is ‘effective sex ed’, who gets to define it, and do you honestly think that your (subjective) opinion about it is going to match up nicely with this governments (subjective) opinion?

and when the government changes, you want any one who gets in to have these powers? because they wont just fall away when the tories or whoever else has their go.

Ally // Posted 20 February 2010 at 11:45 am

@ Anne Onne

All education is in some sense indoctrination, in the sense that it is always necessary to choose what is and is not part of the syllabus. Have you noticed that biology courses do not explain how the morning after pill works (i.e. potentially preventing not just conception but implantation of a conceived embryo), which for some people (myself included) makes a moral difference. Government agenda pushing out freedom of choice, much?

Also, I didn’t notice much critique of the evidence supporting the detrimental effects of cannabis when I was doing PSHE at school. It seemed to be more along the lines of “cannabis will send you crazy, and potentially to prison.” Strangely, they didn’t say much about rights as a prisoner, or widely acknowledge problems of racism in the police force. (By the way, if you are black, you are much more likely to get caught, so all the more reason not to do it, eh?)

Have you noticed how sanitised the “British Empire” course is? We wouldn’t want to corrupt the little darlings’ faith in their country by mentioning rape and pillage, now would we? Fine for us to learn about slavery and the American civil war, but lets not mention our role in apartheid South Africa. But of course, we do need to know all about our noble efforts at protecting fundamental freedoms in WWII, and it would be sacrilege if we couldn’t remember “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”.

How much information do you think children get on political structures? Would they know how to stand as a local councillor? How to go about becoming a magistrate?

Education is a powerful arm of government control (sometimes with an agenda, and sometimes accidental), and we need to maintain people’s fundamental freedoms to opt out of any part of the syllabus. I don’t think the solution to the examples I have given is to say “Oh, but of course, we must change the syllabus to include the less rosy aspects of British History and have a less eurocentric view of politics”. I think it is to say education is an organ of state control and, wherever we see parents (and students) making choices about what they want to learn, (which isn’t simply blocking off their own opportunities because “its boring” or “why would he need to know calculus to work in Sainsbury’s”, we need to support that freedom. Always. Not just when we like the choices being made. We also need to keep fresh in our minds the knowledge that horror of horrors, not every essential piece of information that is fundamentally necessary for the basics of modern life (like knowing your rights as a tenant, your rights if you get arrested, how to vote, what influence you can have over a political party, what your rights to healthcare are within the NHS, how the EU will affect Britain etc ad infinitium) could possibly be taught in a 25 hour week.

Students need to know that school is not responsible for their education; they are. They won’t get everything they need or want to know from school. They need to understand how to learn for themselves.

Frankly, I am incensed by compulsory sex education because my children simply wouldn’t need it. Most adults know how a condom works (if only by trial and error), or the success statistics of the pill. Fewer adults know about trigonometry, calculus, vector geometry, or the structural requirements of a Haiku. I’d much rather the short, valuable time my children were in school was spent learning stuff they can’t learn at home.

To respond to Anne Onne, this is a school making a decision about what they teach, not giving an opt-out to parents. Part of THEIR freedom of expression is not forcing them to teach in a manner they don’t agree with, or forcing them out of the profession altogether. They aren’t burning sex education books and blocking internet sites where this information could legitimately be found. If children are old enough to make decisions about what they need to know, they are old enough to go and find out the information that they need without someone spoon-feeding it to them.

Just to reiterate: freedom of expression is for all beliefs, not just ones we like.

Elmo // Posted 20 February 2010 at 11:48 am

@redheadinred, Laura Woodhouse

I only just left school, and the sex ed there was pretty bad (just a state school, no faith), although I liked my school otherwise.

We got taught the whole how to put on a condom thing when we were 13, which made everyone think “hold on, am I meant to be having sex now?”, and I think everyone got very confused, and even pressured. We wernt even taught about gay sex, as far as I can remember, and very few people in my year came out during school. Most of the videos we watched were about teenage mums, which gave the boys an excuse to jeer and judge (of course there were no videos about teenage dads).

Primary school education consisted of videos of chicks hatching (cute, but not very informative), and then a woman giving birth. We did go into sex in more detail in p7, but even then it was more about puberty.

The menstration lessons were spilt-only girls learned about it properly-which i suspect is the reason why its such a tabbo subject among men. We got quite good leaflets with it, and free sanitary towels (woo!), but we were still terrified to talk about it infront of boys

We got info of STI’s when we were about 17-by then it was probably too late for some people!

Basically, even at non-faith schools, modern sex ed isnt the best

gadgetgal // Posted 20 February 2010 at 11:48 am

@Ally – in the US, even though religion wasn’t allowed in schools (even in lessons, by the way, as in no religious education at all) you were allowed in a lot of states the option to opt out of certain things that didn’t follow your beliefs, such as sex ed. Invariably these smaller, more right-wing christian communities were the ones with the highest teen pregnancy rates and huge numbers of sexually transmitted diseases (I know, I lived in one) – just because I personally might believe something, that doesn’t give me the right to put someone else in harms way, and that includes my own children. Parents are fallible too, and giving individuals the option to just leave out the basics is a mistake – I’d rather go along with all the educational experts who put together the programs as best they could, rather than a random parent or religious educator who doesn’t even understand the topic comprehensively enough to make that kinf of judgement!

Also, on the topic of banning things on religious grounds, not only were you also allowed the opt out for evolutionary theory, there are a few states in the US where it isn’t even taught – you might not care about that, but it was interesting to listen to the opinions of some of the kids who left the area to study Biology at university when they realised that because of their own parent’s bias they were at least a couple of years behind everyone else! I respect parental choice in their own homes, not in mine, and not in my schools!

Jess // Posted 20 February 2010 at 1:45 pm

How ridiculous. I teach science at a state comp and whenever I teach sex ed I have several notes put into my hands at the start of the lesson. These are mainly from the parents of kids from travelling communities telling me that they’re not allowed any sex education. Urgh. I often do an annoymous questions in a box session for the kids and some of the questions that they are ask range from amusing to extremely upsetting. These kids are growing up in an already confusing and over-sexualised world… they really don’t need religion adding to it!

Ally // Posted 20 February 2010 at 1:46 pm

At GadgetGirl. I don’t think its acceptable for the government to force any part of the curriculum onto children with no opt-out clause on ideological grounds (or on the grounds that they can prove they already know the stuff covered in the syllabus and could therefore better spend the time learning something else.) and yes, sometimes that is going to have a negative impact on the choice of individuals, but only if they don’t utilise the voluntary methods of getting access to this information (GPs, Family Planning Units, Books in libraries, the internet). There are plenty of other ways to ensure that children are provided with access to direct their own learning without forcing people to teach it.

As regards the points you made about your not having control of your own children. I agree with this. I think that there comes a point when it is down to the child and not the parent to opt-in or opt-out of a particular lesson (and in fact when the parent should not even be informed of the decision as it is none of their business), and when the child should be allowed to choose whether or not to attend a faith school. In the UK that option usually arises aged 16 after GCSEs, when the child chooses A-level options and related courses and when they choose whether to stay at school, go to a further education college, or apply to another school, or apply for an apprenticeship.

What we are discussing is not whether we should allow parents to control what their children learn (beyond a certain age, and I would argue that that age should be younger), we shouldn’t, but about whether faith schools should be forced to TEACH something. That is different from forcing them not to block that information, and its not something that should be forced even for a worthy political end. It is down to individuals to educate themselves: we have to send that message, and provide opportunities for that to happen, which can, but do not necessarily, involve school.

v // Posted 20 February 2010 at 2:09 pm


“I respect parental choice in their own homes, not in mine, and not in my schools!”

they aren’t *your* schools though. you dont get to impose your ideas on other children and parents through schools either. thats the whole point. thats what some schools and many parents are fighting – the imposition of courses the state decides is important, in whatever way the state wants to teach them.

the imposition of state controlled ‘sex ed’ isnt the only way they are trying to get more control over what our kids are allowed to learn. they dont want any schools teaching to exams other than theirs – eg they want to stop private schools opting for the igcse.

they want to stop steiner or montessori provision in state schools – they havent been able to yet so instead those schools just sit at the bottom of the ‘league tables’ along with any others that reject government controlled GCSEs and SATs etc.

they are trying very hard to stop home education, in particular autonomous education – they want to impose their (failing and experimental) curriculum on all kids.

the government is in the wrong on this one and the way to improve access to good sex ed for kids is not to impose it through schools but to provide better access to that information outside of schools. websites, libraries, family planning clinics, etc etc etc.

and in the US it may very well be the case that the places with strict abstinence only educations have the worst outcomes for kids. but this is the UK, different kettle of fish, and i highly doubt that kids from religious schools have higher rates of pregnancy etc than regular state schools with their crappy sex ed.

those classes on periods are a good example of why we shouldnt be supporting the state on this, too. a couple (at most) of sessions, segregrated by sex, with all information sponsored by Tampax or some other company that sells sanitary products. anyone learn about the mooncup, tampon bleaching, keeping a menstrual chart, etc etc, in those classes? no.

using a tampon doesnt lose your virginity and here is a free sample is about the sum of it. anyone really think the ‘new’ sex ed classes will be any better than that?

Laura // Posted 20 February 2010 at 2:32 pm

@ Ally – I definitely agree with your critique of what’s left out of education, especially regarding practical life skills, rights and how to get involved in politics.

@ v – I didn’t get one iota of sex education from my parents. Nothing. I learnt about sex and periods from 1970s Judy Blume novels. My sex education wasn’t brilliant, but it was better than being left confused, worried and unequipped to deal with changes in my body and sexual relationships / feelings (or learning about sex solely from my peers and the sexist media). As long as some parents fail to educate and prepare their kids, I think we’re going to need compulsory sex education in schools. I think the way forward is to try and push for a comprehensive, inclusive curriculum, because the other option – of scrapping sex education altogether – will leave many children completely in the dark.

v // Posted 20 February 2010 at 2:35 pm

Laura (article author) – what evidence is there that the new sex ed curriculum will “provide accurate, fair and inclusive sex education”?

That is government propaganda and one should be careful about promoting it without checking it first. In comments you say you ‘hope’ it will provide the above – do you not think it dangerous to promote government propaganda based on your personal ‘hope’ and no evidence?

I highly doubt that your or the F Words vision of “accurate, fair and inclusive sex education” matches this governments, and even if it did, there is no guarantee that your vision will match any future government’s.

Even if you genuinely believe that this gov will teach a good feminist education for this subject (despite that they dont do that in any other subject..), do you really think it is a good idea to give every future government carte blanche to impose whatever idea of sex ed they have on all children, which is what they will have if this legislation goes through.

We need to be very careful about what powers we give the state. In this instance, regardless of whether I like religious schooling or not (and imho schooling itself is a religion of sorts) – I have to support amendments that weaken this Bill, and actually i’m just hoping the whole thing is killed off because it is really bad legislation.

v // Posted 20 February 2010 at 2:44 pm

Laura – the options arent just ‘compulsory government defined sex education for all children’ or ‘no sex ed at all’. There are many other possibilities in between.

Libraries, websites, services that can be visited confidentially.. Some schools will want to provide sex ed, some parents will. We need to have many different ways for kids to access the info they need.

Compulsory sex ed in schools, defined by whichever government is in power, is more likely to minimise kids access to any other information than to expand it. Information will correct itself to the curriculum rather than spread beyond it.

v // Posted 20 February 2010 at 2:48 pm

Ally’s comment:

“Education is a powerful arm of government control (sometimes with an agenda, and sometimes accidental), and we need to maintain people’s fundamental freedoms to opt out of any part of the syllabus.”

is the most sensible on this thread and much more succinct than any of mine. So I thought it worth highlighting, and thanks Ally for that.

Horry // Posted 20 February 2010 at 2:50 pm

As a parent myself, I find it amazing the way in which, whenever we fancy a moan, we go on about how children “don’t come with manuals”. Then, as soon as something hits a nerve, we switch round and decide we obviously know what’s best for our children, and the rest of the world can be damned.

Like Laura, I got absolutely no sex education from my parents. I hope to do better with my own children but have no problem with their school supplementing it. If schools do so in a way which is factually inaccurate or which plays to prejudice, surely we should object to that, not to the notion of sex ed being taught at all?

Just because the construction of school curricula is riddled with government interference and prejudice (I know, I work in education and hate this!), this doesn’t mean that any parental objection is necessarily right and justified. Parents aren’t always correct in the freedoms they seek to appropriate in how they raise their children. Being a parent gives you the freedom to do terrible things, it’s a frightening power to have and we shouldn’t make blanket suggestions that no one should ever question it. Having been raised in a home steeped in far more misogyny than my school ever was, this is something I wouldn’t ever want to forget.

Bmu // Posted 20 February 2010 at 5:28 pm


Posting on religion and parenting on any site takes really guts, thank you for being willing to do so, and for writing so much sense.

To those who stress ‘parent power’ can I just ask what makes you think that parents are likely to be any better than the ‘state’.? After all, the world seems pretty bigotted to me, and since there’s no magic ‘sanity’ test for conception, parents would seem likely to be so as well (this isn’t a comment on individuals here, but you can’t have a ‘righteousness’ test for being given parent power-it has to be for all parents or none).

As for Ally, I agree much knowledge isn’t in the curriculum, but the potential to develop new knowledge is -post-colonial history, after all, is a product of formally trained academics. Criticism of received knowledge, understanding that ‘experts’ are neither naturally right nor wrong, and methodologies for pushing the boundaries of understanding are key, and good bright kids learn them from any case study you throw at them, no matter how (in fact especially when obviously) wrong. Have faith in the smart kids, indoctrinating them ain’t easy, especially when (as now) the process actually gives them the tools to object to the knowledge. Education after all is not about learning stuff (any stuff: useful, good or bad), but about thinking.

Sorry, a long drift from sex education (hope it’s got better since my day when we giot shown how to put a condom on a hockey stick, which broke, and told we should be ‘more careful’ with ‘our sticks’. F’ing terrifying)

Amy Clare // Posted 20 February 2010 at 5:56 pm

I don’t think anyone is suggesting the state’s ‘beliefs’ be taught instead of religious beliefs. The point is that this amendment, if it happens, will prevent children at religious schools from learning *facts* about their bodies and sexualities.

I know there is a lot wrong with state education, but it does have a basic standard of teaching children factual information, especially when it comes to sciences. Certain things are facts and should be taught to children as facts, not treated as opinions and left out of the curriculum on the whim of whichever cult happens to be running the school.

Facts like, for example: condoms, used properly, are nearly always effective against STDs and unwanted pregnancy, and furthermore it is not evil or sinful or in any way morally bad to use them. If someone believes otherwise, they don’t just have a difference of opinion that should be respected, they’re WRONG. End of.

Parents have the right to be wrong and to teach their wrong beliefs to their kids if they so wish, but state education needs to be held to a higher standard than that. If I ever have kids, I could teach them that 2+2=5 if I liked, but their school would soon put them straight on it and so they should. I expect the same regarding sex education.

Those issues that *are* a matter of opinion (such as, is monogamy the best relationship style), where they exist, should be debated freely, with children being able to make up their *own* minds. What is so scary about that?

Laura // Posted 20 February 2010 at 6:55 pm

@ Bmu – Thanks. Offtopic – I see what you’re getting at with the ‘sanity test’ comment, but using ‘sanity’ in this context paints those deemed ‘insane’ (i.e. with a mental disability etc) in a negative light. So maybe ‘suitability test’ would be better. (See for more info on ableist language.)

v and Ally – I understand your concerns about government controlling education, but what would you suggest as a better model? As other people have said, parents do not always know best (some are abusive, some poorly educated themselves, some wish to impose discriminatory religious beliefs…), so I’m wary of suggestions that parents (or religious organisations, or businesses) should just be able to set up their own schools independently. I feel we as a society have a responsibility to ensure children are given a good education, and I’m not sure how that would happen if we bypass state regulation. That’s not to say that the current state education is necessarily good – I agree that all the SATs, endless testing, ridiculous targets and lack of teaching of practical life skills etc needs sorting out. But I see working to improve state functioning by improving the democratic system and democratic participation and working with pressure groups to influence policy as the way to do that.

Ally // Posted 20 February 2010 at 7:12 pm

Just to clarify some of my earlier points:

@BMU part of my point was precisely that demanding that students get a taught everything that they need to know for practical adult life has the detrimental effect of them learning less overall (because we are teaching stuff that they would learn perforce anyway) and the discouraging to FIND STUFF OUT themselves, which is where true freedom really lies.

@Amy Clare: morally right and wrong are part of the normative sphere: no matter how ridiculous, they can never be incorrect in the way facts can be incorrect.

@Horry: Examining our own parenting methods by looking at what other parents are doing, whether its working, and allowing educational experts to produce programs that benefit our children in ways we cannot is obviously a positive parenting technique, and should not be discouraged. No-one is saying that state education is a bad thing, and I personally am not saying that we shouldn’t ensure that all children get access to education (which can, if necessary be achieved by testing home-schooled children to ensure that they are achieving a certain standard of knowledge and understanding.) But we also need to realise that the liberal agenda is still a political agenda, and not something that should be pushed on children at an age when they are likely to believe what they are told. (The critique I gave above on the omissions of the education system and things that is important to know is probably not something I would have thought about until 14 or 15, and I was an above average student. )

Someone has to educate children and, below a certain age, whoever that someone is is going to be putting their own slant on things (even if that is a liberal one) and giving short shrift to other areas. The thing about allowing the parents to do this is that this means children are being indoctrinated in different directions- rather than all being indoctrinated in the same direction. This means that as they move into the world and talk to others and discuss issues, they will come into conflict, and it is much more likely that every aspect of a particular issue will come to the fore in debate, debate will be more challenging and people will be forced to examine and re-examine their beliefs more than.

Different kinds of shit offer better clues to the ecosystem than homogenous bull.

The current age of consent for sex is 16. The current age at which compulsory education (in the sense that the state (or your parents) decides what you learn and where you learn it) is 16. After that age people have control over both their educational and sexual choices and that makes sense. Maybe the choice whether to have sex education without parental consent (outside school if necessary), should be offered earlier. That is fine. That gives young people autonomy. What does not give young people autonomy is making it compulsory-that is state control. If control is necessary, it should be parents doing it, because fucking it up different ways is better than fucking it up the same way.

Where what the parents are doing is actually harmful, it is down to social services to deal with that problem, and any school can offer help and support in that situation, whether it disseminating information about how to report sexual abuse, or how to know if it is happening. There is no evidence to suggest faith schools are not happy to cooperate with parts of the curriculum surrounding those issues.

Laura // Posted 20 February 2010 at 7:43 pm

(I didn’t mean the above to sound like a challenge or argumentative, btw, I’m genuinely interested.)

Politicalguineapig // Posted 20 February 2010 at 8:30 pm

Ally:” There is no evidence to suggest faith schools are not happy to cooperate with parts of the curriculum surrounding those issues .”

Er, Ireland. Why would a religious school want to teach kids how to identify sexual abuse when the teachers are actively abusing kids or allowing it to happen? Not saying that all religous schools have a large population of abused children, but religion does tend to encourage that sort of thing.

Gadgetgal: I’ve seen the same thing in my education- U.S sex ed is the pits. I can’t even remember if we had sex ed in the private school I went to. The best sex ed I had was in my biology course- in a Catholic women’s college of all places.

Bmu // Posted 20 February 2010 at 9:23 pm


People learning more than school teaches is clearly to be encouraged, but this is disticnt form people opting out of what school teaches, and viewing that opt out as a right. Education ultimately leads to the generation of precarious knowledge by semi-established means, not just the acquisition of knowledge, and unless you have learned the semi-established means you have no way of talking to others and having debate, nor of assessing their views other than on grounds of morality or general plausibility of the speaker. And curricula run the two togther-both an understanding of a ‘fact’ and of how it was arrived at, so you can’t just ignore the fact. So, if you opt-out of learning about the imperialist view of the British past, you miss understanding how opposition to it works evidentially, and how those counter histories operate within and against existing narratives. No sensible student can be indoctrinated by being taught ‘factual’ stuff, but many a bright student could find their objections weak and marginalised because they lack the basic methodological background and knowledge from which to fight the ‘received view’. Opting out produces ideological bunkers defended by ‘choice’, not grounds for discussion.

On sex education, I think some attention must surely be paid to the alternative sources of knowledge, which are not just biblical but also pornographic and hearsay (annoying I’ve lost the link to this discussion elsewhere on abstinence, in which it showed men who did not recieve sex education cited ‘pornography’ as their main source of knowledge. Ultimately, however crap sex ed is, any general alternative is far worse, and parents cannot have the blanket right to do this just because they once had sex themselves.

Sorry about the ‘sanity’ comment.

v // Posted 20 February 2010 at 9:42 pm

laura, you say you “agree that all the SATs, endless testing, ridiculous targets and lack of teaching of practical life skills etc needs sorting out” but that you think reform of that system is better than supporting a multiplicity of systems.

how many generations of children are you prepared to support imposing that reform experiment on? there is no evidence that the reforms are working and plenty to the contrary. im not prepared to subject my kids to a reform experiment i dont believe is going to work.

i dont even believe theres any real effort behind these reforms. how many articles have you written about the national curriculum laura? how much time and effort have you spent learning about the curriculum or this new bill, before you wrote this article and took this position? all you appear to have is state propaganda and some vague hopes. forgive me if im not prepared to risk my kids education on your hope that this or any future government might one day decide to do it properly – meaning, in any way that i would agree with.

this is easy propaganda from the state in favour of a bill that has been widely opposed on all sides, a bill that has relied entirely on labour whips and that propaganda to get this far.

the gov sets liberal knees jerking easily by making the conversation about the evils of faith schools, public schools, child abuse, homophobia – all things that this gov has no good record of giving much of a shit about beyond using them for propaganda.

the thing about this great ‘diverse and broad’ education is that it isnt – its coming from a government that pushes an incredibly prejudiced agenda, a government that has repeatedly legislated away civil rights.

and as i keep saying – even if i supported this government, even if i thought they were the best gov in the world ever, there is no guarantee they wont be replaced by a terrible one tomorrow. do you really not see the danger in giving the state the power to impose its curriculum on all children, with nobody able to opt out, ever?

Lara the Second // Posted 20 February 2010 at 9:57 pm

I don’t see how having compulsory sex ed in schools prevents parents from teaching it their way as well. It just means that kids will get at least a basic understanding of how it all works mechanically from somewhere.

Loads of kids are taught different things at school to what they pick up at home, some pay more attention to the former than the latter, others vice versa. It’s the same for other resources.

Plus lots of kids just won’t KNOW about all the other options for learning out there, because no-one will ever tell them. People talk about libraries and websites and other sources of information, but if parents or other kids don’t know about them to pass the info on, and there’s no tv campaign or anything – and if there WAS a TV campaign it’d be for a government scheme, wouldn’t it, like Talk To Frank is for drugs – how are they going to know it’s out there? At least compulsory sex-ed at school will at the very least get the facts into kids’ heads.

As an unrelated example, there are so many things about the higher education system that I wish I’d known way before I was thinking of applying to uni. All of those things were written about, by somebody, at some point. The information was out there, and easily accessible. But I didn’t know it was there. My parents didn’t know it was there. My school didn’t tell me about it. My peers either didn’t know about it, or didn’t talk about it. I learned about all this stuff far, far too late, when I was finally told about it, or I when I stumbled onto the info somewhere. Imagine that instead of unessential-to-life uni related stuff I was talking about avoiding STIs?

We can talk about encouraging learning and research and all that, but that would involve a great change in our society and take a long time! You can’t get to every parent and every teacher and make them better at their jobs, but most kids do go to school. This is life and death stuff, sex education, and yeah, it’s not going to be the pro-feminist kind of sex ed we want, but it should save lives all the same.

Horry // Posted 20 February 2010 at 10:02 pm


Thanks for your comments. To be honest, I’m mistrustful of the thoery that allowing parents to opt out of sex education for their children means that “children are being indoctrinated in different directions”. I don’t think there’s necessarily a wide variety of different viewpoints being presented in the home in lieu of what’s offered in the classroom. It’s just a lack of one other influence, and one which could be a positive one. And I don’t think offering information which is correct is settling for “homogenous bull” when we could having wonderfully productive disagreement. It seems to me more like trying our best to cut out the crap as soon as possible (for many, post-16 is too late).

I also think talk of “agendas” is a distraction here. It pushes towards a kind of moral relativism which is ultimately a cop-out. Defining something as a political agenda doesn’t give it the same value as any other thing we could define as a political agenda, and doesn’t mean it need always remain just a “political agenda” (few people now would question the availablility of free education for all, for instance, but it’s not always been universally “right”).

Finally, I guess the thing which really worries me is when you say “when parents are doing something which is really harmful…” then mention sexual abuse and the way in which even faith schools cooperate on that front. I don’t think everyone agreeing that sexual abuse by parents is wrong is quite enough (but at least we’re agreed that opposition to such abuse is not just an “agenda”!). Parents telling their children that condoms don’t work, or that their sexual orientation eternally damns them, or that, contrary to the law, there’s no such thing as rape in marriage, is still harmful. To look elsewhere, parents hitting their children is definitely harmful, and that’s another area where, not wishing to upset “loving parents” by bowing down to the “liberal agenda”, the government have bowed down, so that “reasonable chastisement” continues. To see this as freedom rather than a conservative position which leaves the vulnerable exposed seems to me wrong.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 21 February 2010 at 5:52 am

Forgive me Ally, but I can see a prime motive for religous schools not to teach about sexual abuse.

The scandals in Ireland show that teachers at religious school would have a huge motive for leaving that out of the curriculum- either to cover their asses or to cover for others. I’m not saying that all religious schools have kids who are abused, but it’s easy to see that the environment encourages abuse.

On the other hand, I had a pretty good sex-ed class in a college biology course, at a Catholic school. Weird.

I’m a U.S citizen, so I second gadgetgal’s opinion of sex ed in high school. Mine was crap. Of course, since I went to a private high school for children with learning disabilities, maybe they simply thought we wouldn’t be interested in sex.

(Two of my classmates from high school are mothers, so joke’s on the administrators.)

Laura // Posted 21 February 2010 at 1:16 pm

@ v, I read the details of the proposed changes to sex education when the decision to make it compulsory was originally announced, and they sounded positive. I think sex education is necessary but needs improving, I don’t see why I need to have done tonnes of research on the curriculum to come to that conclusion or write this blog post – the focus of the post was this particular amendment to the bill, which many people are opposed to, not just me.

I’m not saying that you (or others) must ‘risk your children’ in the state education system – I think parents should be able to home educate, providing there is monitoring of the education children are getting. I’ve no doubt your children will really benefit from having a feminist home education, but there’s no guarantee that other parents will provide a positive education for their children, and I think society has a responsibility to look out for those children.

It’s similar to your argument against government-controlled education – even if the parents or government in question are (in our views) positive, that’s no guarantee that other governments / parents will be. My thinking is that with state education, there are far more people involved in producing, delivering and monitoring the education than in private or home education, and therefore it is a safer bet for providing education to the masses than just letting anyone or any organisation set up an education service according to their own agenda, beliefs, prejudices etc.

Elmo // Posted 21 February 2010 at 1:24 pm

Peronsally I thought my state school education was of a very high standard. Yeah, the sex ed wasnt brilliant, but it wasnt truly terrible, and I think its probably the best of a bad bunch.

Anna // Posted 21 February 2010 at 2:39 pm

I went to a faith school – Catholic. My first experience with boys was being woken up after I’d been drinking at a party with some bloke I vaguely knew fucking me. I was 14.

I assumed this was how it worked. Sex ed did nothing to disabuse me of that notion, other than giving me the vague and disquieting feeling that I was somehow ‘spoiled goods’.

Ally // Posted 21 February 2010 at 3:04 pm

When I talk about pulling in different directions and the necessity of opt-out clauses, I am not just talking about sex education in particular. I am talking about the need for legal limitations on how much power government has to make politically controversial information compulsory. I don’t think it is acceptable to force people to teach a particular ideological position unless you not only know that they are wrong, but can prove it beyond doubt as an absolute truth. We cannot prove as an absolute truth that people will not go to hell for using a condom. We can believe it strongly and point to a whole load of evidence why it is unlikely, but we cannot prove it; it belongs in the normative sphere.

Saying something is an ‘agenda’ does not make it equal to any other possible agenda, but it makes it subject to fundamental rights of autonomy, and means, in my view that the use of force would require proof of absolute truth.

I dislike all situations where children are put in a position of being in someone else’s control (whether that be the state, or their parents). They are separate individuals who should be subject to the harm principle. But if we accept, for the sake of argument, the proposition that they are not born with the capacity to make decisions for themselves, then we have to make a decision as to who it ought to be that makes such decisions before the age (x) when they are capable of doing so. For the reasons outlined above, that should be the parents.

For my part, I think that rather than compulsory sex education, every student should have the option of sex education, which if they are at a faith school, could be provided by another local school willing to offer it, or by family planning centres, and be opted for in the same way that when you choose your GCSEs you choose which language to take. It is then a right given to the child to access a health provision, not an obligation imposed on them and their school.

gadgetgal // Posted 21 February 2010 at 3:40 pm

Some really interesting comments here – and good to hear from a fellow US sex-ed survivor, Politicalguineapig! You also brought up one of the concerns I have about the ability to opt out for any reason in sex education – I would hate to think that there would be any kind of difference in the education given to kids in mainstream education and kids who have special needs. We’re all sexual beings, I think we should all be given the facts so we have the ability to make informed decisions – but there are far too many people who think, like your teachers did, that a learning disability equals not interested in sex. I get worried this could be the case if parents/teachers are given an opt out clause!

Really good article, Laura – like BMU said it’s really brave to tackle this topic, I’m glad you’ve done it here!

Bmu // Posted 21 February 2010 at 3:46 pm

Forgive me for posting on much the same topic, but I’m at a loss to understand why people believe state education is an effective tool of state control and indoctrination. By this I don’t mean I don’t understand that it conveys particular meanings, but just that I can see no evidence it has never been effective in enforcing these. If you think it’s ‘too liberal’, which many do since this reflects the politics of the teaching profession, then you have to note that over a century of ‘indoctrination’ has produced students who vote for majority Conservative governments and, when not doing so, conservative politicians. And if you think it’s too conservative, then you have to note that nevertheless British social attitudes have liberalised considerably (indeed, it is that liberalising which often changes the curricula). The most simple reason is that schooling does not form the entire basis of people’s understanding (if your child learns something at school which is debatable and isn’t being debated, you debate it with them, or they challenge it themselves), but it is also the case that most systems of ‘indoctrination’ contain their own contradictions which become obvious to critical minds working within them (and many children are critical), and that ‘liberal’ systems actually celebrate the transitional status of knowledge in ways which make indoctrination much harder (which is why science teachers do experiments and history teachers produce sources, rather than just dictate correct results). If you compare that with the comparatively successful indoctrinations of those whose parents feel so strongly about any issue that they split them from society for their education, it seems hard to be so afraid of the state having some say.

As for government intervention, if you fear the possibilities of ideological government agenda, remember their interventions ultimately come from a sense of how to appeal to other parents, precisely those whose rights to indoctrinate their children are being pushed here. There is something rather alarming about an argument which comes down to ‘I wish my kids to have no part of this particular system because it is wrong, but to ensure that I’m willing to fight for the rights of others to inflict what I see as a terrible education on their own kids’. Why should being lucky enough to carry a child to term and then see them live to school age grant you such power over how their lives develop? And what’s so great for your kids about educating them properly, if they then end up involved with someone whose knowledge of sexual respect and limits comes from pornography, playground gossip or literalist and narrow interpretations of sacred texts?

Surely sex ed makes this point clearly: it can be very poor or very good, but many of its aspects are supplemented in good and bad ways by other sources of knowledge. If parents are secure in their kids’ understanding of what they see as the ‘correct’ position and in their intelligence, surely extra teaching can’t ‘indoctrinate’? And if you think it does, how else do you police the other sources of knowledge about sex, where the option of simply opting-out doesn’t exist?

I’ve finally found one way of getting at the link I mentioned earlier, which was why I originally logged on to write:

I know this is an American survey, and that I was wrong about pornography being the main source of info for men, although it comes close (sorry). Interesting, though, if we’re arguing for withdrawal from sex education because other sources of knowledge are supposedly available, that so few women actually cite their own bodies as a source of knowledge about how their bodies work. If this isn’t on the radar, then you have to worry about the idea people will just find stuff out for themselves. Intersting, too, though, that Amercian sex ed clearly doesn’t provide much knowledge (as gadgetgal and others point out).

Politicalguineapig // Posted 21 February 2010 at 5:45 pm

Sorry about the double post!

Anne Onne // Posted 21 February 2010 at 6:45 pm

@ Ally: I agree about education and indoctrination. More that I am worried that individuals choosing what they believe should be in the syllabus, especially regarding a topic many parents feel very awkwardly about, puts certain children at risk. Perhaps it’s because I keep coming across parents who go on about how they don’t want their children to learn about sex at school, but also really don’t want to talk to them about it either.

Perhaps the fact I had pretty kickass PSHE teachers that I do feel it would benefit kids. PSHE wasn’t as comprehensive as it could have been, but I can’t say we didn’t combat myths or learn how to use contraception or who to go to if we needed it.

I’m not going to defend PSHE as it is taught in all schools or whatever is missed out. But, I don’t feel the answer is to say that none should be taught whatsoever. I am honestly glad that the kids of anyone here will have kickass parents able to talk openly about this, whatever their beliefs are, and so, might not need the far-from perfect PSHE curriculum to teach them. But for many people I know, PSHE was the only time anyone has EVER discussed truths about sex, or discrimination, or anything else like that, with them. And, we’ll have to agree to disagree, possibly, but I feel that this part of society gaining something, is worth the lucky kids repeating a few things.

And don’t even get me started on sanitisation of the Empire. Not to mention the whitewashing of world wars, particularly II, as if Britain and the US single-handedly won!

Yes, education can theoretically be government control, they do choose what goes in or not. But to me, the answer to that isn’t avoiding education altogether, but having more: using basic, government-approved education as a stepping stone to learning the skills and background knowledge that will let you make your own mind up. I don’t like the way lots of things are taught, but I fear leaving people uneducated gives them far fewer skills to be critical and think for themselves. And I say this as someone with family members across all levels of education. I agree people need to learn by themselves, but I fear leaving those who don’t by the roadside, because I’ve seen them let down.

The thing is, sex education starts before they are old enough to make independent learning choices. Most kids don’t really do organised, thorough independent learning til about 16 or so. Many have sex a lot earlier. Many might not be as ready or mature as they think they are (peer pressure etc), and a lot of teenagers who are sexually active still believe in myths. Would I rather everyone checked out scarateen and made informed choices about sex at whatever age? Yes. But given people often don’t think that far ahead, I’d rather they at least had a minimal level of compulsory education.

I just don’t see most parents blocking off PSHE because they support MORE freedom for their children. Maybe all the parents (across cultures) I’ve talked to aren’t representative, but there is a large quotient who just see learning about sex as something ‘you pick up’. Seeing our culture’s fucked up attitude to consent, body image and sexuality, I’m not inclined to agree.

I do respect your wishes for your kids. I know some kids don’t need patchy sex education at school. If I could think of a way to let parents who really did want to educate their kids about sex do it properly, without putting those whose parents think it is unimportant or icky at risk, I would.

Amy Clare // Posted 21 February 2010 at 7:01 pm


“Morally right and wrong are part of the normative sphere: no matter how ridiculous, they can never be incorrect in the way facts can be incorrect.”

Some of the things various religious groups teach their flocks *are* factually incorrect. For example, when the Pope opines that condoms are ineffective against the spread of HIV, he is factually incorrect.

(There is at least one faith school in this country which teaches that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Again, factual inaccuracy.)

Most of sex education *is* to do with facts, and making sure children have medically accurate information about their bodies, contraception, pregnancy, STDs, etc. Imagine if children were told that fire couldn’t harm you or that alcohol actually enhanced driving abilities. This is the equivalent of telling children that condoms don’t work. Children should have as much information as possible about what is a potentially risky endeavour.

If a teacher tells children that homosexuality is a sin and that homosexuals will go to hell, that is also a factual inaccuracy, seeing as there has never been any evidence for such a place as hell, so to say with confidence that there is such a place is either a lie or a delusion.

We can test our moral values using reason – as most of our moral values are concerned with preventing the suffering of other beings, a rational teacher would ask his class to evaluate whether or not homosexuality, or sex before marriage etc, hurts anyone. To shy away from such a discussion is to admit that your moral values are arbitrary, and lo and behold, this proposed amendment shows that religious schools wish to do just that.

No-one should be able to pluck a moral value out of the air and declare it immune from legislation – if I decided tomorrow that potatoes were evil and that all potato-eaters would go to hell, could I teach that ‘value’ in schools with impunity? Most likely I would be told to seek psychiatric help.

Melanie // Posted 21 February 2010 at 7:16 pm

I agree totally with Laura’s article, but I have one observation on Bernie’s comment:

While the sex ed you were given was obviously laughably inadequate and I think you’re right to ridicule it, I did feel a bit uncomfortable about the way you refer to nuns. I may be overreacting, but I too often encounter the stereotype in RL that women who choose not to have sex or be in a relationship are naive, ignorant, immature, hysterical, frustrated, lacking in status or authority, the legitimate butt of ridicule etc.

Women, including nuns, have the right to the sexual life they choose, without being ridiculed for it. True, I can see celibate women may not be best equipped to teach sex ed, but plenty of sexually active people don’t have direct experience of all of the practices that come up in sex ed. IMO, your teacher failed because she was a bad teacher and/or a bigot, not because she was a nun per se.

v // Posted 22 February 2010 at 11:59 am

Laura – its not about having tons of research, its about knowing what youre talking about, and being invested in it.

You dont have any particular investment in this and you obviously dont know much about it either. You are using this platform to promote statist propaganda without any consideration of the impact on the people it is aimed at.

Let me be clear – this is not about sex ed, in itself. It is about any teaching being forced on any children. Sex ed is being used to create knee jerk reactions that diminish civil rights. It is, as I said before, easy propaganda. Poke the liberals with the right words and theyll hand over their civil rights, and those of all future generations.

Put it this way – do you think that all children should be forced to learn (any single subject at all), or do you think children should be free to follow their

own interests?

I believe the latter, its why I oppose the national curriculum completely, and why I oppose compulsory lessons on anything for anyone.

“I think parents should be able to home educate, providing there is monitoring of the education children are getting.”

Wow. Well at least you’re not sitting on the fence. I just lost every last scrap of respect I ever had for you, whoosh, just like that.

“My thinking is that with state education, there are far more people involved in producing, delivering and monitoring the education than in private or home education, and therefore it is a safer bet for providing education to the masses than just letting anyone or any organisation set up an education service according to their own agenda, beliefs, prejudices etc.”

I’m trying so hard to think of a polite response to this. You think more bureaucracy makes anything better, really? You think that the state and all its agents are completely devoid of their own agenda, beliefs, prejudices? You honestly think that the state has the same agenda as you?

Statism – which is what you are advocating here – is not good for people. It is particularly not good for anyone who is different, or percieved to be ‘other’, and that includes women and children.

Im really shocked that you are pushing this statist agenda, aimed at children who are particularly vulnerable human beings, from this platform, and that you appear to be doing so without having any investment in this issue, or having spent any real time learning about it first.

How many more steps (months, it seems like) before state schools and the states national curriculum are compulsory for all under 18 – because that has always turned out well in history hasnt it? This is a fascist policy, the Children Schools & Families Bill is a fascist bill, and I am not using the word lightly.

Laura // Posted 22 February 2010 at 12:24 pm

@ v,

So if abusive parents want to keep their children closeted from the world and teach them crap (or nothing at all), that would be okay would it? Unless there’s some kind of monitoring of home education that could very easily happen.

I don’t think the state has the same agenda as me, but I believe a state is necessary within society, yes. I don’t see the point in arguing that with you as neither of us is going to change our minds.

And I am invested in compulsory state sex education. I’m invested in it because I care about the fact that some religious schools and parents want to actively prevent children learning about how to protect themselves from AIDs, STDs and unwanted pregnancy, because they want to continue teaching centuries-old sexist, homophobic bullshit about sex and relationships. I’m invested in it because I care about the sexual violence and abuse women and girls suffer from as a result of the continuation of that bullshit. I’m invested in it because I don’t want my future children to grow up in a society where it’s considered fine and dandy for their peers to be taught that bullshit, and in which they continue to suffer the consequences of that teaching. The majority of children go through state education and to me it seems a prime place in which we can try and tackle these issues.

I’ve been through state education. I do follow policy relating to it, interact with my MP on these issues, respond to consultations etc. I spent considerable time at sixth form doing what I could to try and push for change. So don’t presume to know what I do and do not learn about or care about. Holding a radically different opinion to you doesn’t make me ignorant.

Laura // Posted 22 February 2010 at 12:30 pm

@ Anna, I’m so sorry that happened to you.

v // Posted 22 February 2010 at 12:45 pm

keeping “children closeted from the world and teach them crap (or nothing at all)”? sounds just like the modern state schools to me.

anything ‘could happen’ in any home. so should we give the state the authority to enter and search any home at will, interview family members seperately and alone, check them against a list of state decided check boxes?

or should we insist the state has reasonable suspicion of actual wrong doing before it does any of the above?

the state is heavily invested in all the bullshit prejudices you mention. the states institutions, including schools, reinforce those prejudices in a thousand different ways – do you honestly think that the odd lesson where someone says ‘homophobia is bad mmkay’ is going to make any difference at all under the weight of it all?

compulsory state schooling and the national curriculum are part of the problem, and no amount of tokenism is going to turn that round. more bureaucracy and more compulsion, is not a solution.

i think on this subject you are ignorant, and i think you are not mature enough to admit it. this is part of a token effort to liberalise society – oh lets support compulsory sex ed defined by the state because thatll show how not homophobic we are. never mind that the state and all of its institutions ARE homophobic, lesbophobic, misogynist, heterocentric, racist, classist, and on and on. never mind that statism makes all those things, all difference, worse – we have a hope that someday it might make it better, and we arent bothered to check history, of this government or any other.

you are wrong, laura. this isnt just a difference of opinion. forced schooling and propaganda are two of fascisms most efficient and coveted tools.

and no, i dont think you are invested in this issue, not as i am. sorry but no. i study philosophies of education, i pay close attention, ive studied this bill, ive read the history, ive talked to the children, and im raising two of my own as far away from the states eyes as possible.

maybe one reason we are so different on this is because i have good reasons to fear the state, my own childhood gives me reasons, but there are others. nice middle class families who fall under the range considered ‘normal’ (white, formally educated to a certain level, not disabled, monogamous heterosexual parents, etc) have the least to fear from this governments statism. me, im fucked under it.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 22 February 2010 at 1:01 pm

Compulsory sex education within school, and ensuring that schools teach correct information not biased by religious beliefs is vital!

As Laura said, the vast majority of children are in state education. It would be great if we could rely on all parents to provide objective, helpful and straight-forward sex ed, but an awful lot don’t.

Within schoolyards, online and in magazines there is some correct information about safer sex, and a lot of misinformation. Children need somewhere where they can be as sure as possible that the information they are getting is accurate.

Anne Onne // Posted 22 February 2010 at 1:22 pm

Women, including nuns, have the right to the sexual life they choose, without being ridiculed for it. True, I can see celibate women may not be best equipped to teach sex ed, but plenty of sexually active people don’t have direct experience of all of the practices that come up in sex ed. IMO, your teacher failed because she was a bad teacher and/or a bigot, not because she was a nun per se.

This. Some of the best sex education advice I’ve had has come from celibate women, or gay men. And most of the worst I’ve heard has come from adults who are sexually active, but haven’t made any effort to learn about sex.

Sex is not a mystical process one absolutely HAS to go through to understand the technicalities. Yes, there are some things (how it feels, the practicalities of negotiating enjoyable experience for both/all parties) where experience really helps, but most of the basics of sex education don’t need practice to be learned. Sure, I wouldn’t necessarily expect a nun to know what the best fragrance-free lube is out there, but she’s as capable of anyone else of doing a bit of research, and for all I know, she might know!

I’m not going to get involved in someone else’s argument, but I felt I had to reply to this:

Put it this way – do you think that all children should be forced to learn (any single subject at all), or do you think children should be free to follow their

own interests?

Yes, actually. I believe children should learn basic literacy and numeracy. There are some subjects which may not feel easy or enjoyable when you first learn them, but they are absolutely necessary for engaging with society fully. I’ve seen first hand in my family what being left innumerate and illiterate can do to the opportunities someone has for their entire life, the isolation they face, and the difficulty and sense of futility they feel when they try to learn it at age 50.

We’re talking about children. People aged under 18. I personally think that as children get older, they have a better idea of which direction they want their life going in, and support their right to choose the direction of their learning. Children studying GCSEs have the right to choose most of subjects but have to take Maths, English and Science. A level (or equivalent) students are allowed whatever subjects they wish, if they can find somewhere to study them. Nobody here is trying to force 18 year olds to learn anything against their will.

But, children is a big category, and children at different ages have very different abilities. I certainly don’t believe that a 12 year old is as capable of reasoning out what they want to do with their life, nor do I believe most 12 year olds want that responsibility to rest solely on their heads. At most ages, children still operate on a short-term reward based system. All of us remember not being bothered to go to some lessons, wanting to get out of a subject because we found it a bit boring or harder initially, probably. If we had been given free reign at 11, I suspect a lot of people would have chosen whatever was easier rather than the subjects we might have needed to do what we wanted to do in our lives. All of us would, if we could have, cherry-picked the ‘best’ bits of even a subject we liked, since we all have things we’d rather not learn. But that would leave huge patches in what we learn that would probably come back to haunt us if we needed to use this subject for GCSEs or A levels or a degree. Not to mention what it would mean to let children (primary school? Secondary school? All of them?) opt out of whichever subject they didn’t like. We might get adults growing up having no idea what the kidneys do or how plants stay alive (‘no biology, too icky’), not know where France is on the map (‘what do you need Geography for?!’), having never learned a foreign language to any level whatsoever (‘Everyone speaks English…’), not knowing how to multiply (‘that’s what calculators are for’), or how to avoid STIs (‘PSHE, that’s just common sense, right?’) or the roles of any other country but the UK* in any situation in history, ever (‘it’s in the past, anyway.’)

Also, those of us with experience with children know that kids may like something one minute, hate it the next, and like it again after a week. Try asking a kid why they don’t like something and the answers are often amusing. Children don’t realistically know what choices are out there for them. It’s not like you’re aware of apprenticeships or UCAS or all the options needed to do different careers when you’re a young kid!

As a society we don’t give children under 16 (sometimes 13) ultimate control over everything because we recognise that children are still learning what they want from life, who they want to be, and what it means to have responsibility. Having been a child, I honestly don’t think absolute freedom under 16 would have been a good thing for me.

This entire thread is about whether religious parents and schools decide to opt out of things kids may well want or need to learn. Nobody here (yourself included) has ever put forward the idea asking kids if they need sex education, anyway, so to use an argument focusing on what CHILDREN want as opposed to their parents misses the point.

* As someone from the other side of Europe, I really do understand your contention with how history is taught. I just feel the answer to misinformation is more information and learning critical thinking. Our sometimes flawed education is only the start of my journey to find out more. But we need a good, general grounding to work off, even if it isn’t perfect. I feel that letting kids decide which bits to pick runs the risk of leaving them with lots of patches where they are dangerously misinformed. One can only know what to specialise in (what they are really interested in) if they have a good general groundingg first, IMHO

I believe we all have the best interests of kids in mind, even if our ideas for how to achieve their education. Let’s remember that nobody here is advocating keeping them ignorant.

@Anna: Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m so sorry that it happened, and that the system let you down so badly as well.

Troon // Posted 22 February 2010 at 3:01 pm

I have very real doubts about whether I can contribute anything constructive to this thread, given I feel my presence will annoy, but hope I will be forgiven for doing so because of what little personal knowledge I bring (and because I would like to offer an off-thread response to Lara the Second). I’ve tried to just give information, although it will be obvious what agenda I have (indoctrination not being my strong point).

I’m a parent, and I’m very worried about what my children will learn in school. I’m also very aware, however, that I have a huge vested interest in them developing ways of thought which will enable me to continue to communicate with them and find them interesting as they grow up. I wish to shelter them from everything shit that this world will throw at them, and have massive personal investments, due to my own life experiences, in some of those things being considered shit. I’m very aware too that parenting discussions makes fairly fine judgements or practical compromises on my part into ideological positions worth passionately defending, because I feel others attack them. These huge investments make me react instinctively in discussions about education, and make me read reports and documents accordingly. I am only speaking for myself here, but I think they make me less, not more, able to judge what should be taught to others’ children and my own. In areas such as sex education my knowledge is compromised by the way the entire social and medical environment has changed from when I was young (and we were basically told ‘no condom, you both die horribly’). The same knowledge problems are true across the broader curriculum-I can’t judge what those who will expand our knowledge in ten years time need to know about their potential future disciplines now, I can only look at the curriculum morally. Even if other parents are better than me at being detached, the suggestion parenthood always and naturally gives better insight seems wholly wrong.

I would also ask that those who think ‘government’ sets education agendas think about the processes involved. I’m one of the bad guys here: I’ve been on boards where higher education professionals discuss curricula and their development with government and teachers. Obviously, everyone involved in those discussion has an ‘agenda’ (and I would ask those reading this not to respond to what they think mine is), but to suggest they represent one view of the subject or of society is wholly wrong (this is one reason we serve on these boards unpaid-we’re all interested in fighting our corner). At the advisory end, the end result is almost always a committee cop-out, a bit of everything that everyone feels is important and an agreement that differences and how to resolve them should be taught, or at least made optional. Some of the comments above on history, for example, are not representative of curricula but of how staff teach them. For instance, there is room for teaching Russian experiences of WW2, and non-imperialist narratives (both ethnic and gendered) and explanations of Empire are included as possible topics of study, both in their own right and as studies of the flawed processes by which historians generate ‘knowledge’.

A constant complaint from teachers when ‘inclusive’ history proposals, or proposals which stress the problems with what is known, are put forward is that parents at their schools will not think this ‘proper’ history, and will not want their kids to study it. As a result, these topics tend to get taught only in schools whose catchment areas make it seem appealing to parents. These topics in turn are then under-served in terms of resource provision, because there is no market for them, which in turn puts schools off teaching them. When government intervenes the politics of any changes with parents is always a key feature. Several years ago, for instance, it was suggested that the humanity, interests and positive achievements of the Vikings have been too little considered within history-they had been labelled as outsiders and attacked accordingly. These proposals seemed acceptable, until the Daily Mail ran a campaign describing them as European-imposed multiculturalism designed to hide our nation’s history. At this point, government and many teachers turned away, basically under ‘parent’ pressure. All this seems, to me, to indicate that parent power is already hugely significant, and responsible for much that some on this thread dislike.

I hope that some of that information was at least helpful within this thread. My real reason for writing was to issue an apology for failing Lara the Second at a critical point in her life. If she has any ongoing concerns I can help with (I’m not big, powerful or well paid, but I do at least hold temporary post in higher education) I would be happy to do so. Even if her problems are in the past, it would be interesting to hear what they were so that we might not fail others like her in the future-many of us try so hard with outreach programmes, but their effectiveness is so difficult to assess, and we have to operate voluntarily where schools are willing. I would hope the moderators might forward my e-mail address to her if she felt such contact could help her or others in her former position.

Elmo // Posted 22 February 2010 at 3:49 pm

I just came out of this “state system” of fascist dictation and supression-and im fine! unless, of course, theve brainwashed me…

Politicalguineapig // Posted 22 February 2010 at 4:20 pm

gadgetgal: I think part of the reason for the lack of sex ed was the high level of parental involvement in the school. A private school is really dependent on the parent’s money, and we had a really strong Parent Teacher Association. I suspect that influenced the curriculum a bit.

We also had a principal in my high school days who clearly lacked respect for our intellectual abilities. (I.e. shutting down all discussion of Sept 11th in the high school wing. He clearly confused us with kindergartners.)

One thing that would’ve really helped as a teen (for me and others) would’ve been a guide to how medications affect your sex drive. I spent my teen years on anti-depressants and had zero sex drive because of that. So some people with learning disabilities are asexual, but it’s not always by choice.

V: What makes you think home schools and private schools do any better than public schools? From what I’ve seen, far too many parents use home-schooling as a means of control.

Bernie // Posted 22 February 2010 at 4:37 pm

Hi Melanie,

If you had read my comment properly before you started to feel “uncomfortable” you would have noted that I mentioned that my Biology teacher was NOT a nun. I said if any nuns had sat in on her class, i.e. observing, she might not have lasted much longer in her job.

I would never ridicule any woman (or anyone, however they define themselves) for choosing to be celibate and not wanting to be in a sexual relationship. I was being flippant about a nun in the context of her believing in the Catholic faith, i.e. the religious aspect of which I find ridiculous. I wasn’t ridiculing her because she was celibate and not in a relationship.

So…yes. IMO, I think you are overreacting.

Ally // Posted 23 February 2010 at 2:15 pm

1. The point is not about the merits or demerits of what the education system is doing at any particular time, it is about constitutional protection of fundamental freedoms. The state should not have the right to impose things on people (even if it is categorically for their own benefit, and no matter how much benefit they get from it). It has a monopoly on the use of force, and its powers to use that force should be limited. That leaves parents and children themselves as the only remaining options for who decides whether they go to a particular available class-parents before a certain age, with increasing self-reliance of the students after. There is also a radical difference between literacy and numeracy and subjects that have ideological content.

2. If a parent makes a mistake, it affects their own children, if the PTA makes a mistake, it affects 100 children, if the government body responsible for the curriculum makes a mistake, it affects millions of people. That is why there should be discussion at EVERY level (not just PTA level, but for those parents who don’t want to take responsibility for the education of everyone’s kids, just their own, in particular spheres) and where a subject is particular contentious ( like sex education) it is important that parents have the right to veto attendance of that class.

3. Partial information is not always better than no information. It can present a misleading picture of the whole.

I would rather my child didn’t know that the morning after pill existed, than believed that it existed and prevented conception, without realising that it prevented implantation in some case and is therefore in my view morally heinous.

I would rather my child not be told that sex is OK in a loving, long-term relationship. It isn’t. Heterosexual sex is only OK where both parties are aware that condoms can split, be defective, be put on incorrectly and that whenever there is sex there is ALWAYS a chance of a baby, and you have to take responsibility for that. That means not only loving your partner, but knowing what their views are on abortion (if you are a man and have no control over that outcome) on childrearing, knowing that they are willing and able to support you, and being in an emotional, physical (and financial!) position to do so.

Many schools give the impression that condoms are foolproof, explain the risks of pregnancy as merely a lot of pain and effort and not being able to go out,and most perniciously give the above partial information about the morning after pill. They may also suggest that abortion is an acceptable route out of a pregnancy. All of this, as far as I am concerned, is harmful misinformation.

Cassian // Posted 23 February 2010 at 3:23 pm

A few months ago I had the privilege of interviewing a Somali activist who had worked on issues surrounding FGM. One thing which she was very passionate about was the denial of adequate sex education to young Somali/British children. In her view giving parents the right to come into school and give their children a religious version of sex-ed denied those children their rights as British citizens to be educated.

Laura // Posted 23 February 2010 at 4:13 pm

@ Ally – Our differing views of the role and nature of the state aside, I just want to point out that abortion is a perfectly acceptable route out of pregnancy. Perhaps not for you, fine, but it is for others.

Ally // Posted 23 February 2010 at 4:36 pm

@ Laura Woodhouse

Killing an innocent human being is not an acceptable route out of pregnancy unless the pregnancy is life-threatening. This is exactly the sort of controversial issue that should not be presented to children by the state. Nonetheless, if the view of the state happened to side with me on this, I would still not countenance it forcing your children to attend the classes where it presented those views. Where children are at a stage in their lives where they make poor decisions because they do not yet have the skills to think all of the possible views through thoroughly when presented a view which claims to be authoritative and is given to them by the educational establishment, the discretion should fall to the parents and not to the state. Whether that is for better or worse for a particular child, it is simply the better view in principle.

Laura // Posted 23 February 2010 at 4:51 pm

@ Ally, You seem to think the state is one person with one set of views. It’s not. As Troon pointed out earlier, decisions on state education are made based on the expertise of a wide range of people and yes, unfortunately, politics. But I would far rather see children going through a system based on the consensus of a wide range of people and do what I can in conjunction with other pressure groups to influence policy than simply allow them to grow up being taught such emotive untruths as your assertion that abortion is simply ‘killing an innocent human being’. Hence why I think religious schools should not be able to teach sex education in line with their own beliefs to the exclusion of ‘equality and diversity’ and ‘accurate and balanced’ information.

Please note that I will not allow this thread to descend into a discussion on abortion.

Kit // Posted 23 February 2010 at 5:02 pm

@Elmo I can’t say I came out of Catholic school well prepared wrt sex ed :/ It’s been years and only just now really that I’m starting to feel normal and less broken about all of that.

I do not welcome this opt-out at all if I’m honest. The science bits were fine in school, but I would have loved less Godwin & indoctrination videos (like The Silent Scream), and more balanced views on the “moral” side of things.

Elmo // Posted 23 February 2010 at 5:18 pm

@Kit :( this is why things need to change.

Surely if teachers stuck to teaching solid, undisputable facts-this is a condom-it has a 99% success rate-this is what your vagina looks like, etc, then no one could argue that the “state” were “imposing” anything on anyone. Or is it too much of a grey area?

Laura // Posted 23 February 2010 at 5:24 pm

@ Elmo – I think sex education is only seen as a ‘grey area’ by those who put belief and bigotry before science and human rights. I was forwarded an email from the Christian Institute through some friends and it contains this rather illustrative nugget:

No choice for teachers


Teachers with sincerely held religious views may be forced to teach that cohabitation and homosexual unions are on a par with marriage. They risk facing dismissal if they refuse. But the law will still allow atheist teachers to refuse to take part in religious assemblies on conscience grounds.

Homosexual partnerships ‘valued’


All primary schools will be required by law to teach children as young as seven that homosexual civil partnerships and other unmarried sexual relationships should be ‘valued’ on a par with marriage.

Please pray that the Opposition will block these measures in Parliament before the election.

Amy Clare // Posted 23 February 2010 at 6:35 pm

I’ve been reading with some interest the discussion of state education on this thread.

A few points:

1. The main reason why most parents don’t home-school their children is because they work during the day. Home schooling just isn’t possible for every parent or even most parents.

2. Certain skills taught at school are necessary for life. Literacy being the main one. You only have to see the pain of an adult who can’t read to conclude that literacy is very important for quality of life. You are basically condemned to a life of poverty if you are not literate. Numeracy too; it’s an important life skill especially regarding money, which like it or not everyone needs.

3. The very act of learning anything – even if you think it’s boring – creates new connections in the brain and helps it to develop. Something which we can all agree is a good thing.

4. A subject you are introduced to at school may be the subject that captures your imagination and your passion. For me, it was English. For others, biology or maths or whatever. If you’re not introduced to the subject, you’ll never know whether it might interest you. A four-year-old child can’t possibly anticipate everything s/he might be interested in. A little girl might want to finger-paint all day, but she could learn about the solar system at school and decide she wants to be an astronaut.

5. There is nothing wrong with teaching facts to children. Facts that could save their lives one day.

6. Teachers are usually degree-educated. This doesn’t mean they are perfect or even likeable people but only that they are usually cognizant of the facts of their particular discipline. The problem with parents teaching children – and this ties into sex ed particularly – is that misinformation can be passed down through the generations, as parents cannot be trained in every conceivable subject. I have met enough adults in my time who can’t grasp basic grammar, and while that doesn’t make them bad people or bad parents, it would make them a bad English teacher.

7. One of the main functions of school is to prepare people for future work. Would it be fair for a person to miss out on a job they want because they hadn’t learned basic skills due to their parents’ fear of state indoctrination?

8. Sex education: putting aside religious concerns for a moment, many parents just feel too embarrassed to talk to their *own* children about sex. Hang-ups and issues therefore get passed down the generations very efficiently. Likewise, children often feel uncomfortable approaching their parents, but feel better about talking to a teacher or other neutral person. Parents vary widely in their ability to educate their children about sex. My parents gave me a Usborne ‘facts of life’ book at age 7 whereas my partner’s parents told him *nothing at all*. People can and do ‘die of ignorance’ still.

9. I agree that state education could be a lot better but every parent home schooling their child/ren is not the answer. If we want children to become clones of their parents then maybe it is, but I personally would rather children learned to think for themselves, or at least encountered other perspectives from their parents’.

I personally believe state education could play a large part in exploding prejudices – and would do more and more if it weren’t for draconian religion-based conservatism – so it should never, ever kowtow to them.

@Laura: That excerpt really does say it all. (Wow, forced to treat everyone equally – whatever next?!) The difference, which has escaped whoever wrote that, is that an atheist person opting out of a religious assembly *is not hurting anyone or discriminating against them or spreading bullshit*.

Melanie // Posted 23 February 2010 at 6:48 pm


Apologies – I meant the nun who wrote the booklet you referred to, not the teacher. (I did read your post properly, I just didn’t write my own very carefully). I felt that you implied by the bracketed exclamation mark that, being a nun, it was ridiculous of her to be writing a booklet on sex at all. Sorry if that was not what you meant.

I’m just trying to be honest about how I feel.

Kath // Posted 23 February 2010 at 8:23 pm

“I would rather my child didn’t know that the morning after pill existed”

A perfect example of why we need sex education in schools.

How about letting you kids make up their own mind about whether preventing implantation is “morally heinous”, or when and with whom they are ready to have sex? After all, no-one is preventing you telling them your side of the story.

I agree with everything Laura has said. The state should be responsible for providing an education, including sex education, that is decided on collectively and available to all. This will be by no means perfect but it shouldn’t be left to the discretion of individual parents or faith communities as then there is no guarantee that even the facts will be discussed.

Tamasine // Posted 23 February 2010 at 10:03 pm

It’s the issues that Laura points to in her last post concern me the most. That religious schools may have the option to not only refuse to teach basic sex ed, but to also teach that homosexuality (amongst other issues) is wrong.

I’m not a parent, and I’ve always had a good relationship with my mum and we can talk about anything, but when sex ed came up in school, she would have rather that I didn’t participate in it. I could never get to the bottom of why, and i’m still note sure. To be honest I don’t understand from the comments that have been made in the posts above as to why a basic understanding of these facts (whether in biology or pshe) is wrong. What is so bad about a simple outline of the fascinating process that a woman’s body goes through when it becomes pregnant? What about information on the right to choose (both positive and negative?) What about the right of a woman (and/or man) to consent to sex, not be subjected to abuse (of all kinds) and to be treated with respect in a relationship and to give the same in return? What about the different kinds of relationships that take place in society? What about different customs and traditions in realtion to both marriage and relationships?

If some of this information hadn’t been given to me at school, the most information that i’d have got would have been from a book. experimentation with a boyfriend at a young age may not have taken place with a condom if we hadn’t been given the information at school. It’s not so much individual freedom as being given the freedom to decide what to do with the information once you have it, and where you can go for further information/support/guidance.

I liked the suggestion that perhaps if faith schools didn’t want to teach this information then it could be ‘outsourced’.

And as a side note, without the basic national curriculum being implemented (1964?), women would still be only learning home economics and prepared for domestic life at home and men would still be being prepared for working in the ‘real world’.

Julie K // Posted 24 February 2010 at 9:13 am

Elmo – “Surely if teachers stuck to teaching solid, undisputable facts-this is a condom-it has a 99% success rate-this is what your vagina looks like, etc, then no one could argue that the “state” were “imposing” anything on anyone. Or is it too much of a grey area?”

I think one problem with this is illustrated by what you said in an earlier post on this thread – “We got taught the whole how to put on a condom thing when we were 13, which made everyone think “hold on, am I meant to be having sex now?”, and I think everyone got very confused, and even pressured.”

I don’t think you can separate out sex education from talking about relationships, self-esteem, not being pressured into having sex before you’re ready, etc – and the difficulty in just sticking to the “solid indisputable facts” is that what you describe – being taught how to put on a condom without talking about the context of how that situation could occur or how you might feel about it – denies the reality that sex and relationships can be a very complex and fraught issue for young people.

I’ve got myself in a bit of a knot there but I hope you know what I mean!

Ally // Posted 24 February 2010 at 10:42 am

No-one is suggesting that school isn’t the best way to learn, or that young children should not be made to learn maths and english. What is being suggested is that parents should have an ideological opt-out up to the point where children can make decisions from themselves. Once they can do this, sex education should be available to all. But not compulsory. Available and compulsory are different.

I am quite shocked by how hostile a group of people so often holding beliefs in the minority are to those holding minority beliefs that are not theirs. People with strong religious beliefs are in the minority, and subject to hostile attacks from the so called ‘liberal’ majority. There is really no reason why they should have any less right to ideologically influence their own children than anyone else. And that means not being forced to treat a non-religious ceremony as of equal value to a religious one.

Laura // Posted 24 February 2010 at 10:53 am

@ Ally,

Actually, v suggested that school isn’t the best way to learn, hence the wider discussion of state education.

Many of us are hostile to ‘minority’ religious beliefs because they promote discrimination and prejudice. People are entitled to their own beliefs and values, but when those beliefs and values threaten the freedom of others, they become a problem. I want a society free of discrimination and prejudice, therefore I care more about protecting the rights of the many who are threatened by such prejudice as homophobic religious teaching, than parental rights to prevent their kids getting access to sex education that is free of such prejudice.

Ally // Posted 24 February 2010 at 11:15 am

I don’t think V was suggesting that literacy teaching is unnecessary, or that school has no advantages-simply that some children may learn better outside, which is obviously dependent on their parents’ ability to provide a quality education.

Degree-educated teachers is only really relevant after about age 12, before that, a lot of parents could successfully home-school if they wished without having to know “every conceivable subject”. Particularly if there are two parents.

I don’t think the religious belief that homosexuality is wrong entails prejudice or a denial of the right to equal employment rights and freedom of contract.

Ally // Posted 24 February 2010 at 11:16 am

Also my comment about the morning after pill was taken out of context: I wouldn’t want someone to know about the morning after pill WITHOUT knowing the features it shares with abortion, and the ethical ramifications of that. My point was that partial information can be worse than no information.

Jeff // Posted 24 February 2010 at 11:22 am

Well said Laura,

The reason for hostility towards the religious minority whom hold very strong beliefs, and the reasons that they should not be allowed to influence children, is that their beliefs often lead to discriminatory ideologies. Schools teaching homophobia, or that people of the wrong religion are of lesser value, are schools that need to change.

Laura // Posted 24 February 2010 at 11:44 am

@ Ally – Thinking that an essential part of someone’s being, identity and life is wrong = prejudice.

gadgetgal // Posted 24 February 2010 at 11:48 am

@Ally – I think v actually WAS suggesting that literacy training is unnecessary – if you follow the Steiner and Montessori methods of teaching (whom she mentioned) forced learning of any kind is discouraged, as is standardised testing. Also she seemed to be advocating no testing for home schooled children either – as someone who works in engineering I have to say that although I admire both the Montessori system and home schooling (not so much Steiner, his explanations for his methods left much to be desired and his views on race were a little distasteful), they don’t make for particularly good practical training overall, nor do they help employers in industry very much. And I know both systems well, as there are a number of Montessori schools in the US and my sister was home schooled – even in the states ALL children sit standardised, functional tests by law, otherwise there is no means by which to judge whether or not the teaching is actually working or whether a child needs any help!

“I don’t think the religious belief that homosexuality is wrong entails prejudice or a denial of the right to equal employment rights and freedom of contract.” You say this but then argue that the state is indoctrinating people by teaching the opposite and that’s bad because it will lead to discrimination against the religious – this doesn’t tally up because by your own arguments BOTH are indoctrination, therefore teaching that homosexuality is wrong WILL lead to bad things like infringing upon equal employment rights and opportunities – you can’t really have it both ways, I’m afraid…

Elmo // Posted 24 February 2010 at 12:31 pm

Agree with gadgetgirl about steiner- ive got a friend who went there, and her education was, to put it bluntly, terrible. There was a lot of bullying that went on too, because the teachers felt the children needed to “independence and self-reliance”-why? They’re children! It also left her a lot to learn about the “real world”, I dont think they got taught anything practical-im still teaching her about the internet!

Julie K- yeah, i get what your saying! Sigh, theres no easy solution to this, i suppose.

Laura // Posted 24 February 2010 at 12:33 pm

The amendment passed, I’m afraid:

Melanie // Posted 24 February 2010 at 12:37 pm

@ Ally

“People with strong religious beliefs are in the minority, and subject to hostile attacks from the so called ‘liberal’ majority. There is really no reason why they should have any less right to ideologically influence their own children than anyone else. ”

No-one is preventing religious parents from ideologically influencing their children – they are still free to tell their children their own opinions in their own home. And I can’t see that they are being denied rights allowed to anyone else.

For example, many vegetarians believe that eating meat is fundamentally morally abhorrent, but I don’t see them getting (or, for that matter, asking for) the right to withdraw their children from Biology or Food Technology lessons where they’re taught that meat is a source of protein. The school teaches them the factual content in a morally neutral manner, but parents are free to give their own moral perspective on it at home.

I really can’t see that any reason other than bigotry for trying to prevent schools teaching children and young people what options are available and legal in this country.

gadgetgal // Posted 24 February 2010 at 12:42 pm

Pissed off because all this extra time on the opt out means the Lords can kill the sex education bill if they want before the next election, which means they’ll have to go through the whole process of introducing it all over again! I’m going to see if my MP voted in favour of the amendment – if he has he’ll have to deal with my turning up on his damn doorstep and whinging at him, I know where his house is!!!

gadgetgal // Posted 24 February 2010 at 12:54 pm

The waste of space didn’t even VOTE!!!!!!!!

Anne Onne // Posted 24 February 2010 at 1:05 pm

@ Troon: Thanks for your comment. I think it’s easy to forget that, whilst we comment on the agendas of political parties involving education, we forget the many other people and groups who influence teaching. IMHO misleading media representation about new curricula is responsible for a lot of hype about the way the education system is going. It’s also good that you pointed out that many people trying to help education aren’t working with the idea of misinforming children or dark ulterior motives.

Thanks, though of course, like you state, many people would much rather it was taught like history ‘back in the day’ (ie everyone but us sucks! Yay!), and try to limit any new perspectives offered.

@ Ally: I suspect that we’re going to have to agree to disagree about a lot of things on this thread.

I just think that if we decide that any subject where parents disagree about what they want kids to be taught (Science, especially biology; English, because some texts contain sexuality; History and Geography because of differing views, amongst others) there really wouldn’t be much that could actually be taught in school, and the burden on many parents to teach their kids all this would be rather steep.

Additionally, whilst I don’t dispute that opting in for sex education might be an option for some youngsters, I fear that many from very religious backgrounds might be interested, but be afraid of choosing this option because of their parents. I’d rather there were other choices, but I fear compulsory sex education, flawed as it is, is the only way to ensure that all children have at least some information, even if it is incomplete.

You would rather your children would not learn the things you mentioned above, and by all means as a parent you have the right to teach your kids everything you wish, including stuff that contradicts the beliefs of many others.

But as an education system basically catering to all beliefs and all sexualities etc, it can’t ‘know’ what every parent wants their child to think, nor should it be required to. Every parent who wants to educate their kid in addition to what schools offer* is able to talk to them, surely? Every parent, to some extent has the job of bringing up their kids with some sense of morality, usually reflecting their own. Schools teaching sex education do not stop parents from talking to their kids about this issue, or explaining it in more depth, or pointing out that they disagree with some aspects of it. It could even be a really good opportunity to discuss things with the child.

In fact, if you’re making the argument that kids should choose, shouldn’t they get the state line on sex education, as well as their parents’ one, simply so that they can decide?

As for the morning after pill, I can’t say that I remember its effects being steeped in mystery, but experiences in different schools differ. I do believe it should be made clear that it’s not an abortifacient, as in, it doesn’t affect an already implanted pregnancy, though.

Perhaps in some cases, partial information gives rises to difficult situations. But I don’t feel that children who receive no sex education from their parents, and only myths from their friends, would be better served by having no information. Thinking that condoms are foolproof is wrong, but better than thinking they don’t work or that doing it standing up is contraception. I agree, kids need to be a whole lot better informed, but even a bare minimum at least gives them some idea of what their options are. I’d want sex education to be a lot more comprehensive. If anything, half of Ally’s points re condoms and morning after pills would support the need for having more comprehensive sex education at school.

So I’d still hope that all parents, regardless of their moral beliefs, would sit down and explain important things to their kids. Even an adequate sex education programme may go over the heads of kids who don’t want to pay attention, yet this stuff is important to most people at some point of their life. And I’d hope that all kids would have the curiosity to find out more, regardless of what they’ve been told, and to make informed choices. But I’m worried about the ones who are left out by the system completely, and what that might mean for them. Plenty of them are sexually active, yet their ‘education’ has left them ill-prepared.

* Not suggesting here that sub-standard schooling is OK because parents can do the rest, but that matters of personal belief are not something we can expect schools to cover. Religious schools may come closer, but we know that even within a religion people have varying levels of what they believe, so this still stands.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 24 February 2010 at 4:56 pm

Yeah, Montessori sucks. I did 2 years of it and never went back. The lack of structure really didn’t work for me, and I can’t even imagine how it’d work in the higher grades. (Asking jr. high schoolers or high schoolers to direct themselves? Far too many would regard it as a license to goof off.)

Anne Onne // Posted 24 February 2010 at 6:02 pm

@ Gadgetgal: Anyone thinking we should make voting whenever something is put forward mandatory for MPs? I don’t even get why they have an option to get out of voting on an issue when it’s their job to vote on behalf of their constituents.

Jeff // Posted 25 February 2010 at 10:04 am

“Anyone thinking we should make voting whenever something is put forward mandatory for MPs? I don’t even get why they have an option to get out of voting on an issue when it’s their job to vote on behalf of their constituents”

Yes! A thousand times yes! Along with mandatory voting at general elections preferably.

gadgetgal // Posted 25 February 2010 at 4:27 pm

@Anne Onne – not sure whether mandatory would work, just the logistics of it would be difficult, and because there’s no separation between the Commons rep and the Constituency rep, it’s the same person.

But I do think as there isn’t a separation, and your MP genuinely is supposed to represent your opinions and not his/her own, some kind of check on whether or not they’re doing that would be good. For example, my MP seems to vote for Trans inclusion (good, to me) but against any relaxation in abortion laws (bad, to me). Now, he’s allowed to vote by his own conscience on both of these matters, but on others he’s forced to vote with the party (he’s Labour), so either way that might not necessarily represent what his constituents want. And I KNOW he doesn’t represent me on other issues – there seems to be no real way at the moment other than constituency meetings where you can get to your MP, and even then they might not agree with the majority of their constituents and so vote against them!

Shea // Posted 27 February 2010 at 2:26 pm

I can’t be the only one reading some of the posts on this thread and thinking sometimes too much parental control is a bad thing- especially in light of what happened to Khyra Ishaq:

Sometimes parents don’t have their children’s best interests at heart and they shouldn’t be allowed to inculcate them with their morally reprehensible religious views.

Elmo // Posted 28 February 2010 at 8:20 pm

Yes, parents have a right over their children

But children have a MORE important right- to safety and care, and often parents cannot be the sole (or at all) providers of this, which is why the government has to have a say.

The parents right is never as important as the childs.

Anni // Posted 1 March 2010 at 12:49 pm

Agree with Shea, unfortunately sometimes parents don’t have their children’s best interests at heart.

If someone wants to bring children into the world, I think they have rights over them in the sense of exercising reasonable discipline, etc. But a parent’s duties far outweigh their rights!

Troon // Posted 1 March 2010 at 5:16 pm

It may be different elsewhere, but in much of the UK the ‘religious charcater’ of the school and of the parents differ hugely. The four nearest primary schools to me are all ‘religious’ schools (one catholic, two CofE evangelical, one liberal Anglican CofE). This was also the situation when I was growing up-all the local primary schools were religious, as were many of the secondary schools. This wasn’t becasue I come from any where deeply Christian, just because I grew up and live in towns whose growth coincided with nineteenth-century industrial boom times and the charitable work that went with them.

In an English context specifically what this amendment means is thus not some victory for ‘parent’ power (already, as I suggest, fairly significant) but a change in the system which allows a small group of highly motivated religious parents and preachers to dictate even further what their local communities receive in the way of sex ed.

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