This week, the new framework for the teaching of relationships and sex education (RSE) will become legal. Bishop of Ely, Stephen Conway, is the the Church of England’s lead Bishop for Education and writes in Tes.
Much has been written about the guidance, and it’s not surprising. Relationships are at the core of what it means to be human. How we frame those relationships – in family and friendship, within communities and between nations – needs careful thought. For Christians, as for other people of faith, our identity as humans exists in relationship with God. We believe that the dignity and worth of every individual exists because they are made unique and precious in the image and likeness of the Creator.
There were no smartphones and no social media. Now, despite positive steps in regulating the internet, even primary school aged children live in a world of rapid online interactions that those with a duty of care will never be able fully to moderate or even to understand. More and more young people are exposed to pornography, to practices such sexting and shaming, and inhabit an online world which has real-life consequences for mental health and the development of positive relationships. Most parents would agree we cannot let this be the quantum of their role modelling, but do not themselves feel fully equipped to offer alternatives. Here is where the RSE guidance comes in.
This new legislation has been formed over two years by the government. The Church of England, as the biggest single education provider in the country, has been among the parties engaged in the consultation. We have been robust where necessary, and we feel both that the consultation has been genuine, and that the government deserves to be congratulated for the finished product.
In the course of the consultation, we raised concerns about the problematisation of religion and faith; the final guidance asserts that all schools – not only those of a faith character – must teach about faith perspectives on these questions.
The new guidance maintains the need for schools to consult their parental community in developing the curriculum, with parents ultimately having the right to excuse their children from sex education if they wish. Our hope is that they will not do so, but this must nonetheless remain an option in order to honour legitimately-held positions of concern.
Schools will now have the option to adopt the new RSE guidance from the start of the next academic year, before it becomes a statutory requirement from September 2020.
I hope and pray that as they do so, schools, families and carers will work together to recognise the complementary contributions of each in enabling children to navigate safely growing up in the digital age, and ensuring they develop the skills they need to flourish in healthy relationships throughout their lives.
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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