Sex & Relationship education (SRE) in the UK remains a highly politicized arena. In the wake of the recent PSHE review, media sources are now reporting that new funding agreements for new free schools and academies places ‘marriage’ centre stage. As the Telegraph notes:
“Headteachers will be told that children must be “protected from inappropriate teaching materials and learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children””.
The Academy’s Trust, it is reported, will fund academies and free schools on the condition that:
“Children at the academy are protected from inappropriate teaching materials and they learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children”.
These moral panics and ideological interventions in the Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) curriculum are far from new. Yet the recent PSHE review suggested that the Coalition on one level were interested in engaging in a dialogue with practitioners such as sexual health workers, NGO’s, educators and academics on the scope and direction of contemporary SRE. At the same time though, the direction on contemporary schools policy in England is encouraging large numbers of schools to convert to becoming fundholding academies and to disengage from local education authorities (LEAs). Such a move enables these new academies to depart from the National Curriculum, and also have relative autonomy over curriculum content and approach.
Ideological meddling with the content and approach of SRE for the protection of childhood ‘innocence’ has a strong pedigree. In the 1988 Local Government Bill, Clause 28 stated that LAs: “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Although the now repealed Section 28 related to LAs rather than directly to schools, the confusion over the nature and direction of the clause meant that many schools steered clear of discussion of LGBT issues with pupils or within SRE programme. This new reported funding agreement is different because it is specifically aimed at schools and will have the effect of marginalizing and quelling debates about the broad nature and purpose of SRE. By emphasizing marriage, rather than relationships, and by this we assume that Gove is not including civil partnership, same-sex relationships or lone parents, it will silence the voices and experiences of LGBT young people and teachers. It will fundamentally be about procreation within a heterosexual union.
The recently reported retightening and refocusing on heterosexual marriage is perhaps the Conservative party returning to form in a focus of traditional ‘morality’ and patriarchal conventions of marriage, family life and child-rearing. As Nadine Dorries’ proposed (but unsuccessful) amendment earlier in 2011 highlights, the focus, content and approaches within SRE are subject to political interference and a Conservative, retrograde attack on women’s and LGBT rights.
Interested in finding out more? Take a look at the following
Alldred, P. & David, M. 2007. Get real about sex: the politics and practice of sex education, Buckingham: Open University Press
Epstein, D., O’Flynn, S. & Telford, D. 2003. Silenced Sexualities in Schools and Universities, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books
Epstein, D. and Johnson, R. 1998. Schooling Sexualities, Buckingham: Open University Press