Support for post-repeal sex education package
The first report of the multi-interest group, chaired by Mike McCabe, director of education in South Ayrshire, has swung strongly behind the Scottish Executive's long-held position, despite continuing criticism from the Catholic Education Commission about the likely omission of specific reference to marriage in forthcoming sex education guidelines.
Mr McCabe, in a submission to Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, says: "Our conclusion that the package of safeguards is sufficiently complete, wide-ranging and robust took account of existing good practice in Scottish schools, the professional judgment of teachers, the quality assurance systems used in schools and authorities, and the awareness and involvement of parents.
"This has already ensured that no inappropriate teaching or use of inappropriate materials has occurred. We recognised and welcomed the fact that sex education is not a distinct subject, focusing on the mechanics of reproduction, but that it is embedded within wider education about relationships and health living," he advises.
But John Oates, spokesman for the Commission, minuted his reservations. "I consider the new section of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Bill, particularly insofar as it makes no reference to marriage, to be inadequate and am concerned that it will impact upon the nature of the circular and the guidelines," he states.
When the minister set up the group two months ago to placate campaigners hostile to the repeal of Section 2A of the 1986 local government act - which bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools - the Executive insisted it did not see sex education as a problem.
"No teacher is going to promote homosexuality as a lifestyle any more than they're going to promote pregnancy or drug abuse," an adviser said.
The working group has now restated the Executive's belief after meeting on four occaions to consider the safeguards on sex education, and commissioning evidence from researchers.
It examined the draft circular to education directors following Section 2A, references to sex education in existing curriculum guidelines, the broad context of sex education within personal and social development and health education, and European law on human rights.
The group also looked at local authorities existing policies and practice, teacher training, and best practice in sex education. Among the options it considered were statutory provisions, regulations, guidance and guidelines.
In the end, it backed the limited change approach advocated by the Executive.
The group will now consider the second part of its remit to offer advice on any improvements to sex education teaching. It will produce guidance for teachers on available advice and materials; advice to schools and teachers on effective consultation with parents; and a package of information for parents.
Meanwhile, Scottish Conservatives have attacked the McCabe report and tabled amendments to the education Bill to allow school boards a veto over materials. The party maintains parents should hold the ultimate power of withdrawing their children from sex education lessons they deem unsuitable.
Brian Monteith, MSP, education spokesman and a member of the education, culture and sport committee, said that the working group had failed to reassure parents.
"My first amendment would allow school boards to have a say in the nature of any sex education material or guidance policies in place in the school and give them an explicit power to stop material being used if they - the school board - thought it inappropriate.
"The second amendment gives parents a legal right to remove their child from a sex education lesson that they did not agree with.
" This is based on the same principle as the conscience clause in the 1980 Education Act that allows parents to remove their child from religious instruction or assemblies," Mr Monteith said.
Mr Galbraith has promised new guidelines before Section 2A is finally repealed.