BHA: UK Government must ‘urgently update’ sex education policies over Section 28 fears

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The British Humanist Association (BHA) has cautiously welcomed the Department for Education’s decision to investigate claims that more than 40 schools have polices in place targeting the “promotion” of homosexuality.

On Monday, the BHA said it had identified at least 45 schools that either had replicated language banning the “promotion” of homosexuality in the classroom or were “unhelpfully vague on the issue.”

Following calls by Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg, officials at the UK Department for Education (DfE) launched an investigation yesterday.

A DfE spokesman said: “What these schools have done by singling out homosexuality is unacceptable. All schools can draw up their own sex education policy but they must ensure they do not discriminate unfairly on grounds of sexual orientation. Our sex and relationship education guidance makes it clear that schools should not promote any sexual orientation. The DfE will be looking into these schools.”

On Tuesday afternoon the Welsh Government confirmed that it had launched a separate inquiry following concerns about two schools in Wales.  

Earlier, the Chairman of the Commons Education Committee Graham Stuart urged for ministers to update Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) guidelines.

The Tory MP said: “It looks like an echo from the past. It looks as if schools have just copied that wording from years ago, before Section 28 was revoked, rather than with any deliberate intent.”

Responding to news of the investigations, BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwa said: “We welcome the government’s investigation into this matter. These schools’ policies must urgently be updated and the schools must take steps to ensure that no pupil is discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“However, we think a lot of the fault of this lies with the government’s own sex and relationship education guidance. The guidance, which dates from 2000 – before the repeal of section 28 – says that ‘there should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation’ and ‘It is inappropriate for youth workers, as with any professional, to promote sexual orientation’.”

Ms Dhaliwa added: “While it is correct that schools should not encourage pupils to adopt a particular sexual orientation against their wishes, no school would ever think to force a pupil to be gay or lesbian. Instead all this guidance achieves, in having unnecessary text that is much too close to the original section 28, is encourage schools to adopt policies that are open to interpretation by teachers, pupils and parents in a manner which could be homophobic. The guidance urgently needs to be reviewed and the offending phrases removed.”