Sex guidelines make marriage a footnote

13th October 2000 at 01:00
A DRAFT version of the Executive's statutory guidance on the conduct of sex education in schools was issued this week, along with three documents which have also been issued for consultation by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

But the draft circular does not underline the importance of marriage in teaching about sex. This was the chief pressure point on ministers in their ultimately successful battle to repeal Section 2A of the Local Government Act, which banned the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools.

The only reference to marriage is in new guidance to schools and education authorities on effective consultation with parents, one of the three documents drawn up by Learning and Teaching Scotland. It endorses one of the key aims of sex education set out by the McCabe working party in June, to "establish an awareness of the importance of stable family life and relationships, including the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage".

The proposed circular also includes this extract but only as an annex.

The Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Act, which repeals Section 2A, but not before the current consultations are complete, puts a legal obligation on councils "to have regard to the value of a stable family life in a child's development". The Act also requires education authorities to ensure the content of lessons matches a pupil's age and understanding.

The proposed circular itself, issued under the terms of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act, is couched in measured terms. It states:

"Programmes of sex education should present facts in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within aframework of sound values and an awareness of the law on sexual behaviour.

"Pupils should be encouraged to appreciate the value of stable family life. 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.

"All pupils should be encouraged to understand the importance of self-restraint, dignity, respect for themselves and the views of others. They should be encouraged to recognise the physical, emotional and moral implications and risks of certain types of behaviour and to accept that both sexes must behave responsibly."

The guidance for schools, which emphasises the critical importance of consulting parents, takes up the same theme and says that effective sex education requires schools and support agencies "to acknowledge the diverse nature of cohort groups within schools and, where possible, respond to the individual circumstances of pupils". Among these are pupils "who have concerns regarding their sexuality".

In addition to the guidance on effective communication with parents, Learning and Teaching Scotland has also prepared a summary of existing national advice on sex education and a draft leaflet for parents and carers. The emphasis is on the teaching of sex education not in isolation but as part of a comprehensive programme of personal, social and health education.

The additional material was among recommendations from the McCabe working party as part of a package of safeguards pledged by ministers in January to head off the political clamour generated by concerns over the repeal of Section 2A.

Leader, page 20

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