On 4th April 2017 the House of Lords considered amendments made by MPs to the Government’s Children and Social Work Bill. Government Minister Lord Nash proposed that the Lords accept an amendment to provide compulsory relationships education at primary schools. The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Rev Donald Allister, spoke in favour of the amendment, which was accepted by the House.
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, I am very happy indeed to support government Amendments 12 and 13 on relationships and sex education and on PSHE. Compulsory provision and statutory guidance are necessary in these areas. The Church of England welcomes this and we very much look forward to the consultation.
We particularly welcome the decision to reverse the name and put “relationships” rather than “sex” at the heart of this policy. This is not about just sex or sex education. It puts sex in its proper context of committed and consensual relationships. But it is also about friendships, resilience, good disagreement and living with difference. It is about tackling bullying, self-image, social media, advertising and so much else. It is about supporting children and preparing them for adult life.
I have listened carefully to the proposers of the amendments to Amendment 12, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I agreed with a great deal of what they said and would not want to disagree with eminently sensible points, not least about bullying and making children or young people feel that they do not belong or that there is something wrong with them. We oppose homophobia and all such things very strongly from these Benches.
However, I am not sure that those amendments to Amendment 12 are necessary. The Church believes very strongly that all forms of education have to be in co-operation and partnership with parents, faith communities and, indeed, the wider community. Educating children is not a matter just for the state. It has to be in co-operation with parents. Achieving that co-operation, as far as possible, with parents and faith communities is what is going to work in making the education better and, indeed, building up the resilience and the community cohesion that we really need in our society. So I oppose the amendments but not the spirit in which they are offered, nor many of the good comments that have been made in support of them.
I am open, as others in the Church would be, to the Government working through what the appropriate age is. Eighteen does seem a bit old for not allowing children to make their own decisions until then. Those sorts of things need to be thought through in the context of the way that society is developing and young people are developing. But the idea of age-appropriate and religious background-appropriate education is entirely right and proper. Just because some elements in society try to steal children’s childhoods from them does not mean that we should collude with that. Children must be allowed to be children and we should not be teaching at primary school or at very young ages what is not necessary or appropriate there.
It is entirely right to be teaching relationships in the primary sector in the way that the Minister described; we support that fully. But we on the Bishops’ Benches believe that the Government and the Commons amendments have got this about right and we are very happy to support them.
Lord Nash: I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough for his comments, and a number of noble Lords also referred to the Catholic Education Service guidance, which sets out that pupils should be taught a broad and balanced RSE programme which provides them with factual information. In secondary schools, this includes teaching about the law in relation to equalities and marriage, including same-sex marriage. It also sets out that pupils should be taught that discriminatory language is unacceptable, including homophobic language, and explains how to challenge it. We believe that it would be inappropriate to refute the rights of parents by teaching about relationships and sex without having regard to the religious background of the pupils. To do so would risk breaching parents’ rights to freedom of religion.