Ministers divorce themselves from sex

30th March 2001 at 01:00
Love and marriage may go together after all - but then again maybe not, the Scottish Executive advises in its final pronouncement on the Section 2A row that last year rocked the adminstration.

Fresh sex education guidance for parents, schools and local authorities is smothered in enough ambiguity and concession to ensure ministers can finally lay to rest one of their most difficult and unlikely irritations.

All interested parties have accepted the compromises. But the M word has succeeded in squeezing its way into the circular on the conduct of sex education in schools issued to directors of education.

The draft issued last October, along with draft curriculum guidance from Learning and Teaching Scotland, did not mention marriage. Now, ministers suggest children should be encouraged to "appreciate the value of commitment in relationships and partnerships, including the value placed on marriage by religious groups and others in Scottish society".

But they add: "At the same time, teachers must respect and avoid causing hurt or offence to those who come from backgrounds that do not reflect this value."

References to marriage that proved so contentious during the political turmoil engendered by the Keep the Clause campaign also surface in the advice. The aims of sex education, the LTS-initiated guidance states, should be to "establish an awareness of the importance of stable family life and relationships, including the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage". The parents' guide makes a similar statement.

This week, ministers finally repealed Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools and put in place the new all-embracing guidelines.

Ann Hill, chief executive of the Scottish School Board Association, who was mired in the Keep the Clause campaign, welcomed the progress on advice to parents. "On behalf of our members, the SSBA tried to ensure that the leaflet is now ore parent-friendly. It emphasises the importance of tolerance within our society and highlights the importance placed by association members on stable family life and marriage," Mrs Hill said.

David Cowling, SSBA representative on the sex education reference group which monitored the LTS work, said differences between the drafts and the final documents were "probably presentational rather than of substance". He did not believe the additional consultation schools would be forced to carry out specifically on sex education would be an impossible burden.

However, Judith Gillespie, development manager at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, warned: "If schools take this seriously, they will grind to a halt if they have to consult every year." But she believed parents would welcome having the sex education curriculum laid out for them. A spin-off would be knowing what a child was being taught in school during a particular week. It would then be easier to raise sensitive matters at home.

The guidance makes it clear parents can withdraw a child from sex education lessons if they are not happy with the content. But, Mrs Gillespie points out, the child's rights have to be considered as much as the parents'.

"Parents-carers and the school must also take into account the child's views given the child's statutory right to education," the parents' leaflet states.

Mike McCabe, director of education in South Ayrshire and chairman of the reference group, said: "The pack is very helpful in making sure parents know what is going to be taught and making staff comfortable with what is expected of them. The package has to be seen in the overall context of health education."

Mr McCabe added: "The message I want to convey is that the victory here is for education in that what we hopefully have now is a more solid framework with information readily available. Teachers will feel more secure in teaching sex education."

Leader, page 18

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