The government has issued guidance to local authorities advising how to handle school protests by parents against the teaching of LGBT and other controversial subjects in Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). The advice includes liaising with police and imposing fines for non-attendance, which suggests the Department for Education (DfE) is in combative mode.
However, the guidance also stresses that schools must consult with parents about the content of teaching and that it is 'right' that schools should reflect on parents' views. It reminds schools that they should have 'respectful and constructive relationships' with parents, who should feel that 'they can raise concerns with the school in an appropriate manner, with the confidence that these will be addressed respectfully and appropriately.'
In saying this, it is in line with the law and with fundamental human rights. Article 26(3) of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: 'Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.'
Protocol 1, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (read into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998) states: 'In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.'
It is important for parents and schools to be aware that there is nothing compulsory about teaching controversial LGBT lesson content. It is perfectly possible to comply with the law and teach RSE in ways which respect parent's views and concerns. The new law, which mandates RSE in all schools from September 2020, is very flexible in what the lessons may look like, including making allowance for faith-based schools to teach a curriculum that is consistent with their faith convictions.
Schools which opt to teach a controversial programme like No Outsiders or All About Me (many of them originating in Queer Theory or the United Nations' Comprehensive Sexuality Education agenda) are doing so by choice. They can be challenged on this, and on what provision they are making for those who object to the content.
Parents have a right under the new law to know what is being taught in RSE and to be consulted on it and they should use this to query the content and push back against anything they find objectionable. As the DfE says: it is right that schools should respect parents' views.
Are Christians, Muslims and others right to be worried? The lessons are often presented as innocuous, just preparing children to live in the modern world. Yet the content tells a different story.
In the introduction to No Outsiders, Andrew Moffatt (who has a background in Queer Theory), explains that the aim is to teach children 'that to be a person who is gay or lesbian or transgender or bi-sexual is normal, acceptable and ok'. This includes reading several books which encourage children to consider whether they might be born in the wrong body.
In All About Me, 4 year-olds are taught about transgenderism and 6 year-olds are taught about homosexuality and masturbation. Marriage and commitment are not mentioned once, let alone endorsed. Traditional moral beliefs are likened to people who think sex is 'rude' or 'funny'. The only video children are shown about romantic relationships, at 9 years old, involves two boys.
Programmes like these plainly go way beyond basic anti-bullying and tolerance messages to active promotion of controversial lifestyles and ethical positions to very small children. It is very likely to confuse them and promote early sexualisation.
Many Christians would regard such teaching as deeply harmful to children, pushing them towards ways of life and thinking that are not in their best interest. Others might be more relaxed about it. But either way it is important that the rights of parents to raise their children according to their own faith and convictions are respected. That is something we can surely all support.
Dr Will Jones is a Birmingham-based writer, a mathematics graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and a diploma in biblical and theological studies. He blogs at www.faith-and-politics.com and is author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove, 2017). He can be found on Twitter @faithnpolitic