Press Release – Response to draft guidance on sex education

The Scottish Secular Society has formally responded to the Scottish Government draft guidelines on draft guidance on Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education

 

New draft guidance has been launched by the Scottish Government and is currently under consideration. While the Scottish Secular Society agrees with much of the content of this new draft guidance, we are very concerned that the continuing allowance for a conscience opt out means that young people will continue to exit our schooling system with inadequate protection for the dangers of life as a sexually active adult, which include unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Scotland has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in Western Europe, despite having many years of sexual education in our schools. The Scottish Secular Society is concerned that our history of compromising with religious organisations on sexual education has led to provision which is not sufficient to prepare our young people. We recommend that our sexual education is remodelled on the Dutch model, which is proven as having a long record of success in lowering and maintaining a low teen pregnancy rate. We also recommend that sexual education is made mandatory for all young people in state schools.

We recognise that this may cause concern to some parents and religious institutions. We qualify our recommendations with the views of parents about what is appropriate for the age of the pupil. We also understand that religious representatives and denominational schools must be free to communicate their views on sexuality and morality, limited only in terms of ensuring any views communicated are scientifically accurate.

Caroline Lynch, Chair of the Scottish Secular Society stated: “While many parents hold strong views about what amount and content of sexual education is appropriate, it is clear from the statistical evidence that our current provision is failing young people. We are sending our children out into the world unequipped to make responsible choices which protect them from the unintended consequences of sex. We believe that Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education should be mandatory across all state schools, with set curricular content modelled on the successful Dutch model.

It is difficult when there are competing Rights to consider to find the correct balance. In this case, it is the child who will bear the consequences of our inaction, consequences which are often lifelong, and can be very severe. As such, we feel it is only correct that we support the Rights of the child to a proper education, in the knowledge that in doing so, we enable them to act responsibly and guard their own health.”

The Scottish Secular Society is Scotland’s largest secular group and campaigns on issues at the interface of church and state.

Ends

Encl: Scottish Secular Society response to the draft guidelines

Notes for Editors:-

The Catholic Church blocked contraceptive advice for school children in 2008:

http://www.scotsman.com/news/health/catholic-leaders-block-contraceptive-advice-for-30-000-scots-girls-1-1436370

The draft guidelines are available online at:

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2013/09/7899/1

Articles available :

Abstinence Only with Pam Stenzel

http://scottishsecularsociety.com/abstinence-only-with-pam-stenzel/

 

Our official response to the Scottish Government follows…..

Response to Scottish Government draft guidance on Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education

 

On behalf of the Scottish Secular Society, I make the following official response to the Scottish Government on the draft guidance on Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education in Scottish schools.

Good quality education on sexual health, relationships and parenthood education is of paramount importance to the Scottish people. Teen pregnancy rates in 2011 in Scotland were at around 30 per 1000 population [1][2]. This figure is 6 times higher than in the Netherlands, which has a far more comprehensive and coherent sexual education strategy than our current provision.[3][4][5]

Teen pregnancy is tied to long term detrimental impacts for the mother and child, and so to improve the chances for children, we need to improve the circumstances into which they are born. One way of doing this is by tackling the issue of unplanned teen pregnancies.

The Scottish Government is aware of this issue and has pledged to deal with it.[6] We cannot of course stop teens from acting according to their nature, but we can equip them to make responsible choices which protect them from unintended consequences of those actions. The best method for doing this is good sexual and relationship education.

We are concerned by several areas of the draft guidance, as follows:

Section 10 – the conscience clause. We recognise that some parents, either through concern for the appropriateness of the material taught or through religious stances will wish to opt out. However, the consequences for the child of a lack of good sexual education are far reaching and severe, and so in this case we feel strongly that the right of the child to a good education trumps the right of the parent. Section 9 of the Human Rights Act limits the right to educate according to religious views in several circumstances, including that of health. Sex education is clearly a significant health issue.

Section 14 – as above, deals with the parents’ sensibilities and views.

Section 15 – the lack of a statutory requirement. If we are to be serious about tackling teen pregnancy rates, not to mention the climbing rates of antibiotic resistant sexually transmitted infections, good sex education should be mandatory with a standard curriculum for all schools, including denominational ones. We agree with the Scottish Government that the rights of the child as per Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) are paramount. We accept however that denominational schools and parents of faith must also be allowed to present their faith view of sexual reproduction in addition to the mandatory material. We would limit this only in requiring that all materials referring to biological aspects of sex education presented must be scientifically accurate and sound, to prevent issues such as those typified by Pam Stenzel’s talk in Paisley, which drew reproofs from NHS Clyde for its inaccuracies.[7]

On consultation with our membership, we documented the following points as being of key concern:

  • Sexual and relationship education should be age appropriate. While relationship education is fine from an early age, our parents were concerned at sexual content being introduced prior to puberty. It was felt that the introduction of sexual content should coincide with the onset of puberty.
  • We feel that both the course and its content should be mandatory, with no opt outs or exclusions on any grounds.
  • We acknowledge and agree that denominational schools and those of faith must be allowed to present their faith view of sexual conduct, providing all materials are biologically and scientifically accurate. For example, it would be fine to say that condom use is wrong under a faith view, but not to deny the fact that it protects from STDs and pregnancy.
  • There was a general consensus that parents need to be informed of what the content of the course is, and when it is taught. Course information should be freely accessible to all at all times (in both written form and on the internet) and given directly to concerned parents.

In terms of a way forward, we would point to the Netherlands, where good comprehensive sexual and relationship education starts at an early age, and is an acknowledged and consistent part of school life. Consequently, their teen pregnancy rate is far lower, and young people start sexual relationships at a later age than in the UK.

Dr Jane Lewis, Professor of Social Policy at Oxford University has studied and compared our systems of sexual education. She said “In the Netherlands, politicians have tended to pass the issue of sex education over to professional sex educators and to charge them with building consensus and developing programmes.” [2] We would suggest this is a good way forward for the Scotland too, removing the problem of embarrassed teachers, and of teaching which might conflict with personal views. Sexual Education is such an important subject, that it seems worthy of its own specialised staff.

 

References

1.    http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Sexual-Health/Publications/2013-06-25/2013-06-25-TeenPreg-Summary.pdf?93670290709

2.    http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Health/TrendSexualHealth

3.    http://sheu.org.uk/sites/sheu.org.uk/files/imagepicker/1/eh194jl.pdf

4.    http://www.bmj.com/content/331/7518/654.2

5.    http://www.rutgerswpf.org/content/sexuality-education-in-the-netherlands

6.    http://www.scotsman.com/news/health/scotland-s-high-teenage-pregnancy-rate-will-be-investigated-1-2721300

7.    http://scottishsecularsociety.com/abstinence-only-with-pam-stenzel/

One thought on “Press Release – Response to draft guidance on sex education”

  1. This response to the draft guidance on sex education in Scottish schools is reasoned and well referenced. On behalf of the Scottish Secular Society, Caroline is correct to draw attention to any potential conscience clause opt outs frequently used by faith parents and religious influences within the schools curriculum. Caroline’s notion of the professionalisation and necessary detachment of sex education without teachers is relevant and must be addressed. What is paramount is the well-being of the child, so that the pre-puberty caveat makes sense as well as as the post-puberty support of the rights of the child to open and informative explanation and support in free choice.
    The elephant in the room in all of this deliberation, as always, is the predictable and unenlightened pressure brought to bear on schools and government by religious bodies, not least by the Roman Catholic Church, for blocking contraceptive distribution in schools as well as information for pupils about safe sex. Scottish secularists must continue to criticise the interference, frequently by unelected religious members of education committees, as well as a general resistance, in innovative and liberal curriculum matters expressive of the rights of children.

    Terry Martin

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