Church warns over risk of ‘ghettoising’ faith in schools

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The Government risks “ghettoising” faith perspectives by not including them in plans for relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education, the Church of England has warned.

According to the CoE, the lack of encouragement for non-faith schools to teach religious perspectives on relationships could create prejudice.

It raised the concerns as it published its response to the Government’s consultation on draft guidance for RSE.

The Department for Education’s 16-week consultation closed on Wednesday, receiving more than 8,000 responses.

It came after Education Secretary Damian Hinds published a proposal in July outlining new subjects to teach children about good physical and mental health, how to stay safe on and offline, and the importance of healthy relationships.

But Nigel Genders, the CoE’s chief education officer, said: “Our principal focus today has been to ensure that mainstream views held by people of faith are welcomed and understood.

“We are concerned that, although the draft guidance makes it clear that schools of a faith character may teach faith perspectives within RSE, it seems to indicate that other schools would only cover this within the subject area of RE.

“We believe that there is a risk here of ghettoising faith perspectives on relationships, wrongly suggesting that they are only relevant to pupils attending schools of a religious character.

“This, we believe, serves to problematise religion, rather than giving children and young people the skills and knowledge they need for life in pluralistic communities with diverse belief, faith, religion and culture.”

However, he added that the CoE welcomed much of what was proposed, such as the inclusion of health education, the need to show respect for LGBTI+ people and to teach about sexual orientation in the secondary phase.

Under the proposals, for the first time pupils in state-funded schools would study compulsory health education, and at primary school would be taught the building blocks and characteristics of positive relationships.

Plans also include compulsory RSE in secondary schools, aiming to give young people the information they need to develop healthy, nurturing relationships of all kinds.

And in both primary and secondary schools children would be taught about online relationships, and internet safety and harm.

The new guidance will be available in 2019 and schools will be required to teach the subjects from 2020.

Mr Hinds said: “We are making the study of relationships, sex and health education compulsory to make sure our young people grow up learning how to deal with the pressures of the modern world.

“The importance of this work, and the strength of feeling around this subject, has been underlined by the fact that more than 8,000 people and organisations have responded to the consultation on the draft guidance – as well as the 23,000 responses we received during the call for evidence.

“We will now consider the consultation responses ahead of publishing the new guidance so young people are learning the skills, knowledge and resilience that will help them thrive when they leave school.”

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