The Public Engagement Group of Free Church of Scotland has responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the draft Statutory Guidance on the Delivery of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) Education in Scottish Schools.
Whilst the revised guidance is an improvement on previous drafts, the Group still believes more can be added to improve the guidance. The Group welcomes the inclusion of a specific section on Faith and Belief and the recognition that schools must be respectful of different faith and belief backgrounds. However, they say more could be added to this section to include consultation with parents regarding faith backgrounds of children.
The Group also welcomes the inclusion of a specific section on the rights of parents and carers to withdraw their children from RSHP education, however they’re not persuaded the guidance goes far enough. The guidance does recognise that “parents and carers…are their primary educators”, but paragraph 2.10 of the Guidance does not go far enough.
Paragraph 2.10 states: “Parents and carers should be given advanced opportunity to view key teaching materials and to ask questions about any aspect of the RSHP education programme. Evidence indicates, where this has happened, parents and carers feel more confident about speaking to their children at home and answering their questions, for example, on sexual health, relationships and physical development.”
The Group say they believe the word “must” should replace “should” in order to recognise that parents and carers are the “primary educators”. The guidance should specify that parents have the right to see all materials being used in the delivery of RSHP, including those produced or delivered by external groups. Schools should proactively communicate with parents and carers in advance, giving them the opportunity to view the materials and ask questions. The group noted that section 28 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 states that pupils are to be educated “in accordance with the wishes of their parents”. The guidance could make this legal commitment clearer and encourage school and teachers to engage in a positive manner with parents.
In relation to the right to withdraw the Group are concerned the current guidance sets the rights of parents against the rights of the child. They say it appears parents’ wishes may be overridden if the school cannot accommodate alternative provision, or if there is conflict between the wishes of the parent and the child. The guidance should clearly state that parents are the guarantors of their own children’s rights. Parents’ rights exist to enable them to ensure their children’s rights are respected. Children’s views must not be pitted against the rights and duties of parents and the school should not act as arbitrator between parents and children.
The guidance should also make clear the right to withdraw is absolute unless there are safeguarding concerns. The guidance should specify the right to withdraw applies to all RSHP education, regardless of where in the curriculum it is delivered, the Group says.
The Group were concerned that paragraph 2.13 states parents “can decide to withdraw their children from participation in the sexual health elements of RSHP education.” This seems to limit the right to withdraw to these elements. Faith and belief is not limited to sexual health but impacts all of life, including relationships and therefore parents should have the right to withdraw from other areas of RSHP. The Group are concerned that some contentious issues do not fall under the “sexual health and sexuality” section of RSHP and instead are included in the “physical changes” section. The guidance seems to suggest parents cannot withdraw their children from those lessons? The Group believes that is wrong and contrary to section 28 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and international human rights obligations.
The full Public Engagement Group response is available to view here.
If individuals or churches wish to respond to the consultation, the deadline is Thursday 23rd November.