‘Cautious welcome’ for new guidelines on sex education

December 12, 2014

Reacting to the publication, by the Scottish Government, of new guidance on Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education, the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) acknowledges positive steps taken to acknowledge ‘lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships in a positive manner’. However, HSS said they were deeply disappointed that faith schools, which account for more than 1-in-5 school placements in Scotland, would retain an effective veto and a curriculum dictated by the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference (paras 38-41).

This veto within the guidance is contrary to the HSS campaign on sex and relationships education, backed by several high profile Scots – see full list at the bottom.

HSS had previously raised concerns that previous guidance relied too heavily on the importance of parental consent, and did not acknowledge the rights of the child. We are happy that this new guidance strikes a better balance, ensuring that the child’s views are taken into consideration in line with their ‘evolving capacities’, and that parents and carers should be helped to understand the nature and purpose of RSHP education. The guidance makes clear that for secondary age pupils ‘In all cases, schools must respect the decision of that young person’ (para 56).

HSS is also very disappointed that if a teacher objects to aspects of RSHP education then they have the option to withdraw. Teaching is about equipping children for the world as it is, not as a teacher may want it to be. By withdrawing from this important part of their education, a teacher is failing in their duty. The guidance gives an important clarification to teachers that discussion of different types of relationships should not be seen as an endorsement of one over another, and should take place in a context of how the law applies to different relationships. No teacher should object to this.

The Society welcomes the wider application of the guidance, now to include community organisations, such as youth clubs and residential care services. Concern has been raised previously about the lack of access to faith schools by public health staff from Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board[1], whilst the Government make suggestions for partnership in their new guidance, we believe that this should be much stronger. RSHP education is about empowering and equipping young people to make health and informed decisions, health professionals have an important role in this which should be emphasised.

Speaking after the publication, Douglas McLellan, Chief Executive of HSS said:

“There is a lot about this new guidance to welcome, generally the acknowledgement by the Government that we need to move more towards a children’s rights based approach.

“The Scottish Government claim that they are ‘committed to ensuring that all children and young people’ receive access to RSHP education, yet they are happy to give an effective veto to faith schools, which educate more than 1-in-5 of Scotland’s young people?

“In their own guidance, the Government say that “It is well evidenced that high-quality RSHP education may contribute to a delay in the onset of sexual activity, reduce the likelihood of unintended teenage pregnancies and may contribute to a reduction of sexual relationships under coercive relationships” – this is all true, which is why it should be applicable to faith schools as well!”

Gary McLelland, Education Policy Officer for HSS said:

“It’s fantastic to see the Government acknowledge the high levels of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying taking place in Scottish schools, and to issue clear guidance for dealing with this. It is deeply disappointing that such guidance will be effectively optional for faith schools, in which over 20% of young Scots are educated.

“At HSS we believe that ALL young people deserve access to high quality RSHP education, regardless of whether they happen to attend a faith school or not.”


Notes to Editors:

The new guidance can be viewed here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/12/8526/downloads

For further information, TV/Radio or quotes contact: Gary McLelland (Education Policy Officer) 07813060713 or gary.mclelland@humanism-scotland.org.uk

The following is a list of people who publicly supported our campaign:

Christopher Brookmyre, HSS President and Scottish Crime Writer

“We expect our children to have the best available resources and information at their disposal when it comes to their education, and this should be doubly true for an aspect of their education that is vital to their future physical and mental health.”

Zara Kitson, Co-convener of Young Scottish Greens

“We cannot leave it up to the pornography industry to provide sex and relationship education to young people.”

Julian Baggini, Humanist Philosopher

“Good sex education is not propaganda, but clear information which we can’t assume children will get at home.”

Lesley Riddoch, Journalist and Author

“The Humanist campaign reminds us that sex education is an invaluable source of information for young adults.”

Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow and Co-convener of Scottish Greens

“All young people deserve a right to inclusive, evidence-based education on relationships, sexual health and parenthood.”

Alison McInnes, MSP for North East Scotland and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Justice

“It is time for all children in Scotland to be given access to a programme of sexual health and relationships education.”

David Green, MSYP for Skye Lochaber & Badenoch

“Informing young Scots empowers them to build responsible and healthy relationships that they choose.”

Dr Claire Cassidy, Depute Head of Education, University of Strathclyde

“All children have the right to seek and access information. This is crucial for their sexual health and well-being.”

Ross McCulloch, Director of Third Sector Lab

“Schools provide age-appropriate maths and English lessons. Relationships, sexual health and parenthood education should be no different.”

Stuart Valentine, Chief Executive of Relationships Scotland

“Relationships define who we are. It’s vital that all young people have access to relationships, sexual health and parenthood education.”

Euan Davidson, President of Liberal Youth Scotland

“Without a compulsory comprehensive curriculum, schools simply won’t tackle vital issues like LGBT health and consent.”

Douglas McLellan, HSS Chief Executive

“Access to age-appropriate sex education is a human right for all young Scots.”

Louise Cameron MSYP, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament

“Personal Social Education is vital to young people’s future in order to keep them safe and protected, and we must prioritise making this available to all young people in an effective and up to date manner. Matters like consent, LGBT rights and mental health are often forgotten about and in some schools PSE is not present at all. We need to highlight this, act on it and provide young people in Scotland with the best rounded education possible.”

Jack Fletcher, Sexpression:UK (N.b. Sepxression:UK currently has a petition submitted to the Scottish Parliament: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/GettingInvolved/Petitions/MakeSREstatutoryInScotland)

“Sexpression:UK supports the Humanist Society Scotland campaign for better sex and relationships education (SRE) in Scotland. We have petitioned for compulsory SRE in Scotland this year and firmly believe that SRE is a vital human right for the children and young people to be taught these subjects. Being able to make a informed and healthy decision in regards to your own and others sexual health and well-being is crucial and SRE is the best way to achieve that aim.”

Humanist Society Scotland is a Scottish Charity registered under Scottish Charity number SC026570 and a Scottish Company limited by guarantee, registered under Company Number 413697.

Humanist Society Scotland’s registered office is at 272 Bath Street, Glasgow G2 4JR.

[1] http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_HealthandSportCommittee/Inquiries/Correspondence_Between_SCES_and_NHS_GGC_Health_Board.pdf

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