Friday, 29 January 2010

Eric Hester's challenge to the CES

From this week's Catholic Herald , with  apologies for such a long post, but the entire article is well worth  reading.

How we lost control of Sex Education

'This Government consists of people of great integrity, is pro-life, pro-family and so it is good news that it is putting before Parliament a scheme of compulsory sex education which will apply to every child in a maintained school in England, which includes all Catholic schools except independent schools."

I venture to believe that there is not one reader of The Catholic Herald who would agree with that statement. Indeed, there is only one Catholic body that subscribes to that view - the Catholic Education Service, (CES). It is the only Catholic body that supports the Government in its plan to make political sex education compulsory for all children in maintained schools.

Before looking at what the Government is planning, I set out the present position. The governors of all maintained schools are currently required to make a decision about sex education. At primary level, that decision can be to do nothing and to have no sex education. At secondary level, the policy must include teaching about marriage and about Aids but schools are not bound to have sex education lessons. All this is to change. The Government is planning to make sex education a compulsory part of the National Curriculum for all children from five upwards.

Let us be clear that this is not a little talk about the birds and the bees. This is what it says in its official announcement: "Personal, Social, Health and Education [PSHE] education (which includes sex) will therefore be a foundation subject in the national curriculum in Key Stages 3 and 4, with the existing non-statutory programmes of study forming the basis for a core entitlement that all pupils should receive... This must include contraception and 'how to obtain emergency contraception'."

The Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls, made it quite clear: "You can teach the promotion of marriage, you can teach that you shouldn't have sex outside of marriage, what you can't do is deny young people information about contraception outside of marriage."

Anyone not convinced should look at Government material. A big disadvantage for me writing in a Catholic family newspaper is that I cannot quote from the material. The Government recommends organisations such as the militantly pro-gay rights Terrence Higgins Trust and Stonewall as organisations to provide sex education in schools. Both organisations have been represented on every Government commission to consider sex education alongside the Family Planning Organisation, the Brook Agency but not one pro-family organisation. Their values - anti-family, anti-life - are entrenched in the Government's proposals.

Then have a look at the website of the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). Or go to the Parliament home page. Governments have to say in what way the Bills they are promulgating differ from existing legislation.

Currently the Education Act of 1996 says this about sex education, which is not, in any case, compulsory: pupils "must learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children". This is how the Government intends to change that act: pupils "must learn about the nature of marriage and learn the nature of civil partnerships and the importance of strong and stable relationships". Currently, the 1996 Act contains this defence that children "are protected from teaching and materials which are inappropriate having regard to the age and the religious and cultural background of the pupils concerned".

Is the Government going to change that clause? No, it is not going to change it - it is going to delete it entirely. How can the CES defend this? It has made several statements, some of which are confusing and have been shown up by clear analysis in an open letter by the National Association of Catholic Families (NACF) a letter which, as far as I am aware, was not given the courtesy of an answer. The CES has issued what it calls a "clarification" on its website.

I reproduce it here in full:

"The proposals announced by Ed Balls today (5th November) confirm that, from September 2011, Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, including Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), will be compulsory in all schools. We welcome the Government's reiteration of its support for the important principles underlining SRE [Sex and Relationship Education], which emphasise that schools continue to have the legal right to determine the content of what is taught in PSHE within their schools and that governing bodies retain the right to determine what is taught, and must determine this in line with the ethos of the school."

That sounds reassuring, but it is not true and the CES knows it is not true. Governing bodies will not be able to "determine the content" of what is taught but will be forced to include that which the Government wishes including "civil partnerships", and how and where to obtain abortions and contraception without the knowledge of parents' let alone their consent.

What is the Bishops' Conference doing about all this? It discussed the Government's proposals at its November meeting but did not issue any statement about the matter and I am told it made no resolution.

I have been informed by one bishop that they were given assurances by the CES that governors would have complete control and that there would be no question of any teaching about civil partnerships or information given to pupils about how to obtain contraception and abortion without parental consent.
It seems as if the bishops have relied entirely on the information of the CES and ignored other advice. They have been deceived. Bishop McMahon, who is in charge of education for the Bishops' Conference, met me on October 30 and said he had been assured categorically that sex education would not be part of the National Curriculum. A week later, the Government announced that it was to become part of the National Curriculum.

Catholic teaching on sex education could not be clearer: only the parents have the right to administer it and their right is "inalienable" which means that no one else can take that right and the parents themselves cannot give up the right. The best document to consult is the document of the Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth And Meaning Of Human Sexuality. This can be seen online on the Vatican website.

John Paul II put the rights of parents like this in his Charter of the Rights of the Family: "Article 5 c. Parents have the right to ensure that their children are not compelled to attend classes which are not in agreement with their own moral and religious convictions. In particular, sex education is a basic right of parent and must always be carried out under their close supervision, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them."

I publicly challenge the CES to obtain from any Government Minister a statement that it is true that school governors can "determine the content" of what is taught in sex education and can omit anything that they do not like. Everything the Government has said is to the contrary. Under the Freedom of Education Act I have obtained correspondence between the CES and the Government, where the CES asks for that very assurance and is not given it.

So does the CES claim that it has been given private assurances that all will be well? That was exactly the argument used about gay adoptions, where the Government broke any promises given and which has resulted in the ending of Catholic adoption in England as we used to know it. I further challenge the CES to debate sex education with me, or a better speaker, on behalf of Catholic teaching at a public meeting.
Eric Hester was headmaster of Catholic schools, grammar and comprehensive for 24 years.
He has extensive experience of inspecting schools "

Why isn't Eric Hester the Chief Executive of the Catholic Education Service?

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