Who should teach our kids about relationships and sex?
Earlier this year, confrontation between parents and teachers at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham kicked off a national debate about the rights and wrongs of teaching children about LGBT relationships. This resulted in the school calling off lessons in March until ‘a resolution has been reached’, causing an outcry among those who felt important lessons were being sacrificed to ‘the mob’. The parents have been accused of ‘homophobia’, something they deny.
The lessons at Parkfield, a primary school, under the title ‘No Outsiders’, used stories to introduce pupils to the idea that there are different kinds of family arrangements, including families with ‘two mummies’ or ‘two daddies’. Another story was about a little boy who dresses up as a princess. Parents, many of them Muslims, argued that the lessons promoted homosexuality and that they, not the school, should be teaching their children about such matters. The school insists it does not offer an opinion on those matters, but rather suggests that children discuss the issues with their parents. Nonetheless, similar protests have occurred in Bradford, Croydon, Bristol and elsewhere, becoming particularly heated at another Birmingham school, Anderton Park.
In March, the Department for Education published guidance directing that, from September 2020, it will be compulsory for all primary schools to teach Relationships Education and all secondary schools to teach Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). LGBT campaigners welcomed the news, interpreting the new RSE guidance as meaning there is now a requirement to teach young children about same-sex relationships and trans-gender.
The government has said that the teaching will be ‘age appropriate’, but the guidelines have already caused concern to both parents and teachers. Some parents believe that the proposed lessons step on to a moral terrain that should be left to them, while some teachers feel uncomfortable teaching RSE, prompting the government to allocate £6million ‘to ensure teachers are well-prepared’.
With parents and teachers apparently at loggerheads over sex and relationships education, who should be addressing this potentially controversial issue with children? Should it be a matter for government when or how children learn about sex and relationships? Who should decide what kind of relationships children are taught about and at what age? Should we respect the religious beliefs of parents or would giving parents a veto deny children the right to learn for themselves?