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The Relationships Education controversy

While parents bring up children, parental rights are not unlimited. Children also have rights which the state must protect. That includes learning that LGBT relationships are normal.

Summary

Posted 31 March 2019

In recent weeks there has been much media coverage of the dispute at Parkfield School primary in Birmingham. The "i News" article "Birmingham primary school suspends LGBT lessons after protests" summarises what has happened.

Very briefly, many Muslim parents of children attending the school object to the relationships education being taught to their children. It appears that they do not want their children being taught that LGBT relationships are normal.

In this case, the school is not a faith school, but one with a large number of pupils of one faith, here Islam. The same issue has regularly arisen with Jewish faith schools, particularly those which are ultra-Orthodox. As an example, see the article "Another Chasidic school marked down by Ofsted for avoiding LGBT issues" from the Jewish Chronicle. The same issue arises with Christian schools. See "Christian group tells Ofsted to focus on 'quality of education, not identity politics'"

After I gave a local radio interview about the issue, I was approached by the organisation Schools Out UK which campaigns "to make our schools safe and inclusive for everyone" including people who are LGBT asking if I would give them a statement about the issue.

In my view, the question goes much wider than just LGBT issues. The text of my statement is reproduced below. It is on the Schools Out UK website, but their website's formatting makes it hard to read.

Parents have rights, but so do children

Mohammed Amin MBE @mohammed_amin

All free societies recognise that parents have the right to raise children in accordance with the parents’ religious beliefs and values. Denying that would vitiate freedom of religion or belief.

However, all children also have fundamental human rights, which the state must protect, even against the wishes of their parents. For example, parents are normally free to take medical decisions on behalf of their children. However, the UK government will mandate a blood transfusion for a child even if the parents, for example in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, believe a blood transfusion to be religiously prohibited.

Another example is the child’s right to education, which parents are not permitted to deny. That is why education is compulsory.

Recently, we have seen very conservative Jewish, Christian, and Muslim schools attempting to avoid teaching children about evolution or attempting to present creationism in science lessons as an acceptable account of human origins. The state quite rightly takes severe action against such attempts.

The most recent controversy concerns relationships education for primary school children. The state considers, in my view correctly, that all children have the right to learn that in our society some people are LGBT, and that members of families which have two fathers or two mothers have the same inherent right to equality and human respect as members of families with a mother and a father, or families with a single parent.

The state’s requirement for this to be taught to all primary school children however outrages some very conservative Jewish, Christian, or Muslim parents. They consider such teaching incompatible with their religious belief that homosexual or lesbian relations are a major sin.

The parental right of withdrawal

While education is compulsory, the law has always accepted that one part of the school curriculum, Religious Education, is different and that the parents’ own right to freedom of religion and belief requires the state to permit parents to withdraw their children from Religious Education in school.

When sex education was introduced into the curriculum, my understanding is that a parental right of withdrawal from sex education was introduced alongside it.

Following the enactment of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, The Department for Education (DfE) has carried out a consultation which included consideration of the right of withdrawal from sex education.

In February 2019, the DfE indicated that an absolute right of withdrawal from sex education at primary school would continue, but that at secondary school parents could only make a request for withdrawal from sex education up to and until the last three terms before the child reached the age of 16. Furthermore, at secondary school head teachers would have the power to reject such parental requests if they considered rejection appropriate.

However, I understand that there is not presently any right of withdrawal from relationships education, and the DfE does not plan any right of withdrawal from relationships education once the law is modified by statutory instrument to take account of the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

Where I stand

I believe that every child should be taught in school to understand the world as it is. There are people who are LGBT, and such people have always existed throughout human history. While most people are not LGBT, those who are LGBT have the same human rights as those who are not.

Most importantly, any child who themselves may be LGBT has the right to be taught in school that, although they are part of a minority, they are not “un-natural” or “deviant” but instead part of a minority that has always existed, and that they are entitled to the same respect as any other human being.

Obviously, all such teaching should be given in a way that is age appropriate, taking account of the best possible pedagogic understanding.

 

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