Sex and Relationships Education
CARE for Scotland strongly supports a decentralised approach to sexual health education. This allows the subject to be taught sensitively on a school by school basis which gives the flexibility to ensure that the subject is taught in line with the ethos of the school and in accordance with parental wishes. It enables teaching staff, in consultation with parents, to decide on the curriculum that best suits the needs, age and faith of their pupils.
In the past sexual health and relationships education (SHRE) has been decided on a school by school basis with general guidance being issued by the Scottish Government. In recent years, however, a trend has developed for health boards and local authorities to adopt a single approach to SHRE which is then extensively used within local authority run schools within the health board area.
CARE has two central concerns:
First, we want the guidance that is issued to uphold the importance of traditional marriage, to respect parent’s wishes and the school ethos. Until recently the Scottish Government guidance on SHRE was contained in Circular 2/2001. This recognised the value of stable relationships for the raising of children and said that the importance placed on marriage by religious groups and others with Scottish society should be respected. It reiterated the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education classes.
Following the introduction of ‘same-sex marriage’, the Scottish Government published new guidance in December 2014. The Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education (RSHP) guidance states that all types of sexual relationships should be included in sexual health education and that RSHP education should address diversity issues. It embeds a child rights approach in the teaching of sexual health education and requires schools to take children’s views into account in its provision. This means that if parents of a secondary school aged child wish to exercise their right to withdraw their child from RSHP education, the child’s view on the matter must also be considered. The new approach has watered down parents’ prior right to determine the form of their children’s education and has prioritised child rights instead.
Second we are concerned about the increasing trend to make sexual health services available to children within an educational setting and without parental knowledge or consent. In 2014 the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee conducted an inquiry into teenage pregnancy. The Committee noted the complaints of some health boards that they are not able to access denominational schools in order to distribute contraception or make other sexual health services available to children. In 2015, the Scottish Government published a draft Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy. This document includes the proposal to locate sexual health clinics which will signpost young people to the full range of sexual health services (including abortion and emergency contraception), either within or near to schools. The final version of this strategy is due to be published in February 2016.
We are concerned that the approach of distributing contraceptives to young people within the context of school education normalises underage sexual activity and is likely to place added pressure on young people to experiment sexually. Moreover, the easy referral for abortion or emergency contraception, without parental knowledge or approval, risks encouraging sexual activity amongst young people, undermines parental authority, may result in long-term feelings of regret and post-abortion trauma and will undermine the ethos of faith schools.
Questions for Candidates
1. Will you seek to ensure that the discretion of schools – in consultation with parents – to determine their own programmes of sexual health education is maintained and is not compromised by the local authority or health board pressuring schools to teach SHRE in a particular way?
2. Do you support the right of parents to withdraw their children from sexual health education?
3. Would you fight for the review of the latest SHRE guidance so that it places greater emphasis on the role of parents and does not allow schools and children to overrule the wishes of parents about whether or not they are taught SHRE?
4. Will you protect the right of faith schools to ensure that the teaching of sexual health education, and the provision of health services on their premises, accords with their own religious ethos?
5. Would you fight against proposals to position sexual health clinics within or close to schools where contraceptives and emergency contraceptives are handed out to children without their parents’ knowledge or agreement?