Ed Balls denies ‘watering down’ sex education for faith schools

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Schools secretary Ed Balls has denied watering down sex education laws for faith schools.

Last Friday, the government was accused of performing a U-turn over an amendment to the Children, Schools and Families Bill allowing faith schools to teach about homosexuality in line with their “religious character”.

Groups such as the Accord Coalition accused ministers of introducing a “21st century Section 28”, which they argued would lead to more homophobic bullying.

The bill completes its passage in the House of Commons today. It is designed to ensure all schools teach children about issues such as families, sexual activity and contraception, depending on the age of pupils.

Mr Balls told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that there was no “watering down” of the “overdue and radical” changes.

He said: “A Catholic faith school can say to their pupils we believe as a religion contraception is wrong but what they can’t do is therefore say that they are not going to teach them about contraception to children and how to access contraception.

“What this changes is that for the first time these schools cannot just ignore these issues or teach only one side of the argument.

“They also have to teach that there are different views on homosexuality. They cannot teach homophobia. They must explain civil partnership.”

On the same programme, Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws said: “The issue is, in the 21st century, are we going to have a school system which is going to be tolerant of intolerance in the name of religious freedom?

“Or should we say in the 21st century that it is right that all state-funded schools should be teaching tolerance and respect for diversity?”

Chairman of the Accord Coalition, a group for inclusive faith education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said last week that Mr Balls was “implicitly condoning homophobia in schools”.

He said today he was “astonished and saddened” that Mr Balls had tabled the amendment.

Dr Romain said: “If a school doesn’t approve of contraception or abortion or homosexuality, then it can give that message or it can omit certain facts.

“We know there are some faith schools which take a very negative view.”

The Catholic Education Service claims to have successfully lobbied for the amendment on its website but has refused to comment further.

Others who have attacked the amendment include the British Humanist Association and the gay humanist group Pink Triangle Trust.