Tuesday, 3 June 2014

SRE Consultation

I have just been working on my response to the Inquiry on Sex Education (with thanks to James Preece for the reminder, and to SPUC for their guidance notes

I note that once submitted, they may not be used for any other purpose - including, presumably, as matter for a blog post.  However, I can see no reason why I should not publish my draft notes, and invite others interested to comment and help me clarify and correct any points.

And, of course, if anyone wishes to contribute to the inquiry himself or herself, my draft notes might help provide a stimulus to his or her thinking.

So without further ado (except a request to put me right if I have got anything wrong)...

1            Executive Summary

1.1  It is troubling that this inquiry is being held so soon after the last: it gives the impression that parents gave the ‘wrong’ answer and the powers that be will not rest until the 'right' answer is given.

1.2  At the heart of this issue are two opposed ideologies: one which sees young people as active consumers of sex, and one which sees sex as properly reserved for married life.

1.3 PSHE ought not be made compulsory.

1.4 Schools should be accountable primarily to parents (and those acting in loco parentis) in the provision of PSHE.

1.5 Provision should be developed in the context of parental wishes and the overall aims of promoting stable family life, which is the bedrock of society, rather than the promotion of hedonism. It should be based on research into what supports stable family life, not a permissive ideology.

1.6 The involvement of Brook  et al in the development of  Supplementary Advice demonstrates which ideology (see 1.2 above and 3 below) is dominant. That is unacceptable to many parents, who believe their approach inimical to civilised society.

1.7 In order for the effectiveness of SRE to be measured, the goals should be clear. I propose the goal should be the reduction of early sexual activity, and the reduction in the numbers of those engaging with multiple sexual partners; measures would then be the associated reduction in STIs, teenage pregnancies and abortions.  All of which would be measurable and all contribute to the Common Good.

2            The present inquiry

            2.1    There has been a very recent consultation by the Department for Education, with a report published in March 2013 http://bit.ly/1n81eEx
Many parents responded (more than any other category of respondent) and the messages were clear: many parents are concerned about SRE, they believe it is primarily the responsibility of parents, they do not wish schools to be able to push material or views they deem inappropriate on their young children, and they reject the idea of compulsion.

            2.2 Given that context, and allied with the strong lobbying by interest groups such as Brook, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this inquiry is an attempt to overturn the findings of the previous one. According to those who deem themselves ‘experts,’ the parents got it wrong.  However, many parents trust their own judgement, particularly when based on traditional wisdom (ie the collective learning of the generations which preceded us) or religious or philosophical systems which reject the implicit hedonism of the ‘experts’ preferred approach.

3            Opposing ideologies

            3.1 At the heart of this inquiry are two opposing ideologies.  On one side there are those like me who believe that we should be educating our children for life-long monogamous marriages; on the other, those who want to see children as informed, active, consumers of sex. Lest anyone think I am over-stating the position, visit the www sites for fpa and Brook, where they make their position, including condoning under-age sex, very explicit. They are advocates of children’s right to enjoy their sexuality, and are among the country’s leading campaigners for and providers of abortion.

It is evident that Brook and fpa talk the language of ‘relationships’ to get their material past parents: there is none of that concern in their www sites. But of course any teenager can convince himself or herself that the current infatuation is ‘a meaningful loving relationship.’ That kind of thinking provides no protection against promiscuity - but then it is not intended to.

The middle ground is made up of those who would prefer children to delay having sex and not be too promiscuous, but believe that they can’t be stopped. That risks being a self-fulfilling prophecy, transforming the historical pattern of a very small number of children being sexually active into a much larger number being so.

The evidence on early sexual activity and multiple partners seems pretty clear: the two go together, and are an unhealthy combination, physically, emotionally and psychologically. Oddly, Brook and fpa, who are so keen to deal in fact, ignore these facts absolutely - as they ignore the research which shows that 70% of girls who engage in sex early (pre-16) regret it later on and wish they had waited.

These different ideologies naturally lead to radically different approaches to sex education. Those who think as I do, believe that sex is private (indeed sacred), and that taboos (and even some things labelled by the ‘experts’ as prejudices) are often helpful in protecting children from premature exposure to adult issues and from aberrant thoughts and behaviours. The other side believes that anything goes (as long as it is consensual), and that openness and choice are the primary virtues.

3.2            Given that ideological division, it is clear that large numbers of parents are rightly suspicious of any approach that is informed by the thinking of Brook and its ideological allies.

4            Consultation Point One: Compulsion?

4.1            Compulsion is a significant decision in any democratic society. It should only be used on those occasions where it is just, proportionate and necessary for the good of society and individual members of society. Such a case pertains in both negative compulsions (laws which restrain behaviours which would be harmful to others, such as driving at excessive speeds) and positive compulsions (laws which compel behaviours for the good both of society and of the individual, such as the education of children).

4.2            In this case, it is not clear that compulsion would be just, proportionate or necessary. Indeed, in the view of many parents it would be unjust, disproportionate and harmful.

4.3             It is a serious business to bring the law and the legitimate authorities of the country into disrepute: introducing compulsion against the wishes of parents in pursuit of a contested agenda pushed by partisan experts would undoubtedly do that.

4.4            Compulsion would be a derogation to the state and the education system of responsibilities which rightly rest, in the first instance, with parents.  The fact that some parents are unable or unwilling to meet their responsibilities is no just reason to strip all parents of their rights. In terms of the Common Good, parents should be encouraged to undertake their responsibilities, not prevented from doing so.

4.5            Compulsion would also absolve schools of the practical need to work in partnership with parents. A compulsory system would mean simply that the programme recommended by ‘experts’ drawn from one side of the ideological division over this issue, could be imposed with no right for parents to withdraw their children from it.  Given that some of the materials promoted by such ‘experts’ are deemed not only inappropriate but actually damaging by many parents, that would be grave indeed (for example, Living and Growing is an assault on the sensibilities of those who wish their children to grow up chaste – indeed it works directly against such parents’ intentions for their children’s formation).

4.6            For all of these reasons, compulsion should not be introduced.

5            Consultation Point Two: Accountability?

5.1            The family is the place where children naturally learn civilised behaviour, ranging from courtesy, to making sensible decisions and acquiring good habits (for example) about diet and exercise; and also refraining from harmful activities such as taking drugs.

5.2            As before, the fact that some parents are unable or unwilling to meet their responsibilities is no just reason to strip all parents of their rights. In terms of the Common Good, parents should be encouraged to undertake their responsibilities, not prevented from doing so.

5.3            Moreover, many of the issues covered in PSHE are morally contested; parents from different cultures and belief systems will have different views as to what is most appropriate for their children. They should not find themselves in a position where the school is working against their programme for their children. There may, necessarily, be exceptions in extreme cases (such as cultures that support FGM).  Teaching children chastity is clearly not such a case.

5.4            For these reasons, and in recognition of the importance of the parents as the primary educators of their children, schools should be accountable, in the first instance, to the parents of the children who attend the schools. In that way, teaching is not driven by experts’ ideology, but rather is sensitive to the variety of values and cultural norms that local families may adhere to.

6            Consultation Point Three: Provision?

6.1            The provision at present is subject to several criticisms:  it is hedonistic, frequently pornographic, assumes promiscuity as inevitable, and is not based on sound and appropriate research. Further schools are often poor in communicating with parents either about the content or the underlying research and philosophy of the provision.

6.2            It is based on a hedonistic philosophy that many parents find abhorrent, and believe to be damaging of individuals and families and therefore of society. That philosophy equates moral good with only two considerations: pleasure and consent.

6.3            It frequently involves the use of pornographic material: that is, material showing intimate sexual behaviour. Indeed, if anyone other than a teacher were to show such material (eg some parts of Living and Growing) to a minor, he or she would probably be prosecuted.

6.4            It is based on an assumption that young people are going to be promiscuous, that risks being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

6.5            It is not based on research into what will help children to grow up into responsible adults capable of forming stable loving relationships; despite plenty of research demonstrating that such relationships are the best environment to raise the next generation to be happy and healthy.

6.6            There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that my experience is not atypical.  I was told that my children would be learning about growing up and puberty, and a meeting was arranged for parents interested.  I had to book time off work to be able to get to the meeting, which was at the end of the school day (and thus before the end of the working day). I found that the material about growing up and puberty included information on masturbation, animated cartoons of a couple having sex, and so on. And this at junior school! Most parents will have been wholly unaware what their children were being taught, until after the event.  The Headmaster gave us a handout (provided by Brook) telling us research backed up this approach. He was unable to cite any such research. I withdrew my children from the programme (but if the experts have their way, that will be outlawed).

7            Consultation Point Four: Adequacy of recent steps?

7.1            As far as I can see, this refers to the supplementary advice drafted by the PSHE Association, Brook and the Sex Education Forum. Given that these are all very clearly on one side of the ideological division to which I referred earlier, it is not surprising that they seem not only inadequate, but positively harmful to me.

7.2            Parents are excluded from any consideration at all. The student-centred approach is taken to an extreme that would not be tolerated in any other subject. It is inconceivable that one would teach maths simply by asking children what they want to learn.

7.3            The requirement for SRE to be taught by people who are trained to talk about ‘healthy and unhealthy relationships, equality, pleasure, respect, abuse, sexuality, gender identity, sex and consent,’ raises the worry of Brook-trained ideologues being given licence to teach children according to their own values and beliefs, which may be a long way from those of the parents.

7.4            This is made explicit in the guidance that teachers should “treat sex as a normal and pleasurable fact of life.” For Christians, Jews, Muslims and many others, that is a completely inadequate philosophy. Sex is seen as sacred, relating as it does to the work of the Creator.  It is not simply another recreational activity. We do not expect that view to be accepted by schools, but we do not expect it to be systematically undermined, either.

7.5            It is therefore the opinion of many in this country that the philosophical underpinnings of the approach advocated by Brook et al is inimical to society, tending to raise promiscuous children, disconnected from their cultural roots, and severely damaged in their ability to form stable families.

8            Consultation Point Five: Measuring the Effectiveness of SRE?

8.1            In order to measure the effectiveness of SRE, it is important to be clear about the goal. Effectiveness is then measured by progress towards that goal.

8.2            According to my analysis at 3 above, there are two quite different sets of goals that could be considered: on the one hand the goal of making children into competent consumers of recreational sex in pursuit of pleasure; and on the other, raising children to grow into adults capable of forming stable monogamous relationships for the good of their families and society as a whole.

8.3            Given that the role of the civil authorities is to pursue the Common Good and the well-being of individuals, I believe that the second type of goal is legitimate for the education system, whilst the first is not.

8.4            Therefore I propose that the immediate goal of SRE should be the reduction of early sexual activity, and the reduction of those engaging with multiple sexual partners; measures would then be the associated reduction in STIs, teenage pregnancies and abortions.  All of which would be measurable and all contribute to the Common Good.

9            Conclusions

9.1  This inquiry should not be used as an excuse to disregard the clear messages sent by parents in response to the last consultation.

9.2  The education system should not adopt the hedonistic philosophy of Brook and its ideological allies.

9.3 Schools should not be required to make teaching in this area compulsory.

9.4 Schools should teach in the context of their children’s families’ values and beliefs, not an ideology.

9.5  Provision should be focussed on raising the next, and subsequent, generations in ways compatible with a civilised society and the Common Good.

9.6 Reliance on experts from one side of an ideological division is deeply damaging.

9.7 The true educational goal of SRE should be to develop emotionally mature adults, capable of forming monogamous relationships and raise the next generation of society. The interim goals should therefore be to work against the culture of promiscuity and early sexual experience; and the effectiveness of SRE should be measured against those goals.

1 comment:

pattif said...

This is excellent, Ben.