The withdrawal of a grotesque sex education programme shows the difference Christian public witness still makes
Some rare good news on the culture wars front. Warwickshire County Council have ditched their controversial Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) programme 'All About Me' after a threat of legal action from the Christian Institute.
The programme came to national notoriety last September when one family shared their concerns with the press about their two small children being taught the 'rules for self-stimulation' at primary school. It was subsequently revealed that the lessons promoted transgenderism to 4-year-olds and homosexuality to 6-year-olds, that marriage and commitment were not mentioned once, and that traditional moral beliefs were likened to people who think sex is 'rude' or 'funny'.
The only video children were shown about romantic relationships involved two boys, while graphic sexual images were shown to 9-year-olds.
The Christian Institute took action and wrote to the council after they received numerous complaints from worried parents in the county. The evangelical organisation brought to the council's attention the 'catalogue' of ways in which the programme put schools at risk of breaching their legal obligations. They explained they were concerned about the 'highly explicit imagery and one-sided ideology' of the programme in the way that it promoted falsehoods about gender and transgenderism, failed to promote marriage as schools are required to do under UK law, and did not adequately take into account that material must be age appropriate, be correctly classified as sex education, and give due consideration to the religious background of pupils.
Church leaders from across Warwickshire welcomed the move. They said, er, they said... sorry, actually they said nothing, at least not anything that has reached any public media outlet. Just as they apparently had nothing to say when the problems with the programme were first exposed.
Has the church ceased to care about marriage and what our children are taught? Or are they too afraid to speak up, perhaps being unduly concerned about keeping on good terms with wider society? Perhaps they don't want people to think Christians only talk about sex – though there doesn't seem much risk of that right now, with very little discernible public witness from church leaders in this area.
The council says it will now point schools to the forthcoming Department for Education's (DfE) national resources. It is expected that this will take the form of a webpage cataloguing a range of RSE resources that have been quality assured by the DfE. As the DfE's regulations for RSE require schools to ensure that pupils learn the importance of marriage 'for family life and the bringing up of children', and that 'the education is appropriate having regard to the age and the religious background of the pupils', it is to be hoped these things will be adequately reflected in the resources endorsed.
The Christian Institute added that Warwickshire was 'out of step with most other local education authorities' in producing material so controversial. Nonetheless, parents around the country 'have grown increasingly concerned at inappropriate sex education being taught in lessons that are supposed to be about forming friendships and dealing with online bullying'.
The outcome is very welcome for such parents who can often be made to feel disempowered by schools not interested in listening to their views and concerns. One head teacher, Ed Matyjaszek, told MPs and Peers at a parliamentary briefing in February that he had attended a head teachers' conference on the new RSE regulations where the representative of the local education authority had informed delegates that the 'point of the consultation is to get the parents together so that you can tell them what you are going to teach their children'. This is an important reminder that that is not true.
It also shows the power that Christian public witness still has to make a difference in the contested area of marriage and family, and how Christians can use the law to advance Christian values in society. There is a national framework for RSE to safeguard children and respect the rights of parents, and it is not optional. Sometimes it even has teeth.
Dr Will Jones is a Warwickshire-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