Church of England says controversial relationships and sex education must be delivered in 'faith-sensitive' way

(Photo: Unsplash/Kimberly Farmer)

The Church of England has published a new Charter setting out the principles that schools should apply in delivering the mandatory relationships and sex education (RSE) curriculum when it rolls out in September 2020.

The curriculum includes teaching about LGBT relationships, a component that has already sparked protests outside schools in parts of the country. 

The Church of England said it "welcomes" the new curriculum, although it expects it to be delivered in an "age-appropriate" and "faith-sensitive" way, and in consultation with parents.

"All schools and academies are required to act within the requirements of the law, including the Equality Act of 2010," it states in an introduction to the Charter.

"The Church of England welcomes, supports and expects the teaching of Relationships and Health Education in all Church of England primary schools.

"It is up to each primary school to decide whether they wish to choose to teach some aspects of Sex Education but we encourage schools (following consultation with parents) to offer age- appropriate provision.

"In Church of England secondary schools Relationships, Sex and Health Education will be taught. In all schools where Sex Education is taught parents will have the right to withdraw their children from that part of the curriculum 'other than as part of the science curriculum'." 

The Charter lays out eight key commitments for schools to adopt, including working in partnership with parents and carers. 

"This will involve dialogue with parents and carers through all stages of policy development as well as discussing the resources used to teach their children and how they can contribute at home," the document reads.

"It must, however, be recognised that the law specifies that what is taught and how it is taught is ultimately a decision for the school." 

Other principles commit schools to delivering RSE lessons with professionalism and "in a way that affords dignity and shows respect to all who make up our diverse community".

"It will not discriminate against any of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act9 and will be sensitive to the faith and beliefs of those in the wider school community," it states.

"RSHE will seek to explain fairly the tenets and varying interpretations of religious communities on matters of sex and relationships and teach these viewpoints with respect.

"It will value the importance of faithfulness as the underpinning and backdrop for relationships. It will encourage pupils to develop the skills needed to disagree without being disagreeable, to appreciate the lived experience of other people and to live well together." 

The Charter comes with additional resources, including a skeleton agenda for parents' meetings, a framework for school staff discussion, a policy template, activities and prayers. 

Launching the resources today, Stephen Conway, who is Bishop of Ely and the Church's lead Bishop for Education, said the Charter and companion resources would help all schools "foster an inclusive and faith-sensitive approach to Relationships, Sex and Health Education", and children and young people "to develop the skills they need to form healthy, resilient relationships within a pluralistic society."

"While delivery of these topics has not been without contention in recent months, children are increasingly at risk of exposure to pornography and other damaging online and real-world interactions, and we must commit to teaching this vital part of the curriculum in a way which affords dignity and shows respect to all," he said.

"It is our ambition that these resources will give primary schools in particular the confidence to develop an age-appropriate sex education provision in partnership with parents, guardians and carers, while recognising this is a decision for each school to make.

"As all schools must uphold the protected characteristics of the Equalities Act, this Charter is not just for Church of England Schools, but can be of value to any school as it seeks to be clear and intentional about a faith-sensitive approach to Relationships and Sex Education."

The publication of the Charter comes a day after dozens of experts and faith leaders, including the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, wrote an open letter to the Government urging it to postpone the implementation of the RSE curriculum because of the serious concerns being raised by parents and the faith community.

In light of the recent protests, the letter, published in the Church of England Newspaper, said that more time was needed to ensure that the controversy is properly resolved.

"The RSE provisions as framed prematurely sexualize children and confuse their natural development," the letter reads.

"Children from age 4 are being taught that gender is a matter of choice, which pushes them towards permanently life-changing decisions they lack the competence to make."

The Charter was criticised by the Rev Lynda Rose, CEO of Voice for Justice, in the Church of England Newspaper. 

"If the people responsible for Church of England policy think that they are being faithful to God, they are deluding themselves," she said.

"The truth is they have been beguiled by the propaganda of those seeking to promote an ideological agenda which rejects the teaching of the Bible and traditional morality and, as result, they are betraying their trust to be faithful shepherds of the people, charged with leading the flock into the ways of righteousness and truth.

"They are betraying their charge to care for, and nurture, children."


When it comes to equality and faith, the Government is robbing Peter to pay Paul

Christian and other faith leaders urge Government to postpone Relationships and Sex Education plans

Parents who don't agree with LGBT lessons are quickly running out of options

Parents need to exercise their rights to challenge RSE lessons