Sex education overhaul in England based on ‘overblown’ claims, say teachers


Plans to overhaul official guidance on sex education in schools are blowing a perceived problem out of all proportion, teachers’ representatives have said.

The Department for Education (DfE) has set out proposals to introduce age ratings designed to prevent teachers covering some subject matter with younger children, as well as other measures, after the prime minister ordered the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, to bring forward a planned review.

Rishi Sunak did so in response to pressure from the Tory MP Miriam Cates, who claimed in the Commons earlier this month that children were being given “graphic lessons on oral sex, how to choke your partner safely and 72 genders”.

On Friday, Keegan declared herself “deeply concerned about reports of inappropriate lessons being taught in schools” and the DfE confirmed Cates’s statement in the Commons on 8 March was the grounds for its new proposals on relationships, sex, health and education (RSHE) guidance.

But the chief of the teaching union the Association of School and College Leaders said the claims were “overblown, sweeping and supported by evidence which is flimsy at best”.

Geoff Barton, the union’s general secretary, said it was “very disappointing” to see Keegan offering “implicit criticism of schools when she says the review will restore the confidence of parents”. He said the “vast majority” of schools already teach RSHE “cautiously, sensitively and in an age-appropriate manner”.

The DfE said it would lead the review, but that it would be informed by an independent panel providing “external expertise”. The guidance is expected to be released in the coming months, possibly before the beginning of the next academic year, and will then be subject to public consultation. That process is expected to conclude by the end of the year, with the guidance coming into statutory force as soon as possible after that, the department said.

Announcing more details on the RSHE review, the government said it was determined to make sure such teaching “leaves children equipped to make informed decisions about their health, wellbeing and relationships, in a sensitive way that reflects their stage of development”.

But Barton accused the government of providing little training and funding, while expecting teachers who specialise in other areas to cover the subject.

Earlier this month, the New Social Covenant Unit, a thinktank founded by Cates, produced a report: What is Being Taught in Relationships and Sex Education in Our Schools? A Call for a Government Review. It contained no evidence the material she referred to in the Commons was prevalent in British classrooms.

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In a report in the Daily Telegraph published shortly before she addressed MPs, Cates cited several secondhand accounts she said had been sent to her by anonymous parents. Neither she nor the DfE has responded to requests to provide clear evidence of specific examples of the material they claimed was posing a major problem.

Last week, it emerged that teachers at a school on the Isle of Man received death threats after false reports that children had been left “traumatised” by graphic sex education taught by a drag queen.

An investigation by the island’s government concluded the claims were inaccurate. The guest speaker – a drag artist who was not appearing in drag – was not teaching a sex education lesson at all, but had been asked to talk to the children about “gender-neutral language and the concept of gender in the LGBTQ+ environment”. It added that the speaker’s reference to the possibility there could be as many as 72 gender identities came in response to a question from a child.

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