Catholic church condemned for using blocking tactics against sex ed

February 26, 2016

The Catholic church has been condemned by Humanist Society Scotland in a bitter row with the NHS in Scotland over what they call “sinister” plans to open sex and relationships centres in or near their schools.

Sex and relationships education at state-funded Catholic schools has long been the subject of bitter debate – with church officials imposing strict regulation on what can and can’t be taught in classrooms.

In November 2014 Humanist Society Scotland ran a campaign to have guidance around sex education reformed. In their submission to a Scottish Government consultation Humanist Society Scotland highlighted correspondence between Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board and The Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee:

“We do have a concern that denominational schools which represents a third of the school estate in this area, may not be providing the same high quality level of SHRE to children, young people and parents. We have no feedback available from denominational schools on what is being taught, what training teaching staff may have had or what involvement parents have had in their children‘s learning. From our own staff that routinely work with schools, we have an understanding that they can be routinely denied access to denominational schools, or can only do so only if key issues, especially matters to do with sexual health and relationships are not discussed with children and young people.”

Health bosses have claimed that the church’s refusal to teach safe sex leaves teens at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.

Now the government has proposed a new set of drop-in sexual health centres – targeted specifically at pupils from denominational schools.

But the body representing Catholic schools has denounced the “underhand” plan as “sinister” and in “direct opposition” to the wishes of parents.

The proposals for clinics have come in the government’s new Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy – due to be published next month.

As part of the strategy they have consulted with sexual healthcare bosses across the country – some of whom have hit out at Catholic schools directly.

Bosses at NHS Lothian have said that they see a particular need for such schemes as a result of Catholic schools in their catchment.

They have told the government that sex and relationship education in Catholic schools is “too frequently not equipping young people with the information and access to services that they need.”

NHS Lanarkshire’s sexual health team have also called for council education departments to take a “much more proactive role” in referrals to sexual health clinics.

And – they say – this should include the deployment of free condom schemes, in spite of the church taking a stance against their use.

Their submission reads: “There are ‘significant discrepancies’ in the advice pupils receive in different schools.

“This continues to put the health outcomes of children and young people at risk and puts local authorities in the position of providing unequal goods or services on the basis of religion.”

It goes on to level a criticism specifically at Catholic schools.

“Objective, non-judgemental information and support is very difficult to achieve when we still have state-sponsored segregated education on the basis of religious belief.”

It also calls for an “enforcement” of equal access to sex health information regardless of where pupils are enrolled.

Colin Anderson, senior health promotion officer at NHS Lanarkshire, said that pupils are specifically “at risk” of STIs, unplanned pregnancies and domestic violence if sex and relationship education in schools was inadequate.

Gary McLelland, head of communications and public affairs for the Humanist Society Scotland, said:
“Sex and relationships education is essential to promoting health and well-being. It is a child’s right to access high quality evidence-based sex and relationships education.

“Most parents will be surprised to learn that publicly-funded Catholic schools want to block access to information about reproductive health for children and young people. It’s astonishing that the Scottish Catholic Education Service continue to fight against these important public health reforms.

“We already know, from information obtained by the Scottish Parliament, that health chiefs in Greater Glasgow are alarmed about the blocking tactics used by some Catholic schools.

“With over two-thirds of young people in Scotland claiming no religion, it’s astonishing that the Scottish Catholic Education Service thinks it has any place blocking health services for young people in Scotland.

“In the coming weeks, ahead of the 2016 Holyrood elections, Humanist Society Scotland will be outlining our vision for reform of the education system in Scotland.”


Adapted from Deadline News. Image Courtesy: Dave Wilson, Creative Commons.

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