SCHOOLS Secretary Ed Balls today denied offering faith schools an opt-out from new rules forcing teachers to address issues such as homosexual equality and contraception in sex education lessons.
Balls said that a bill being debated by MPs later today would introduce an “overdue and radical change” and that a controversial amendment tabled by the government earlier this month would not “water down” the plans.
But an amendment tabled by Balls will allow faith schools to teach such issues in a way that reflects their religious character.
Today the Liberal Democrats’ schools spokesman, David Laws, accused ministers of being in a “terrific muddle” over the issue, arguing that this last-minute change
Completely undermines the objectives of this part of the bill.
The amendment would allow faith schools to dodge requirements to promote equality and respect for diversity in a way that some people would consider intolerant, he said.
Laws told Today on BBC Radio 4:
The issue is, in the 21st century, are we going to have a school system which is going to be tolerant of intolerance in the name of religious freedom? Or should we say in the 21st century that it is right that all state-funded schools should be teaching tolerance and respect for diversity?
After all, there are already opt-outs for parents and there is already the wider obligation to teach in relation to the religious and cultural background of pupils.
But, in a subsequent interview on the same programme, Balls insisted that Laws was wrong.
There’s no watering down of what is actually an overdue and radical change. There’s no opt-out for any faith school from teaching the full, broad, balanced curriculum on sex education.
Balls said that, under the current system, faith schools could choose not to teach children anything about contraception, abortion or homosexuality.
Or you could choose only to teach children that homosexuality is wrong or contraception is wrong.
But in future schools would have to explain these issues to their pupils, he said.
They must teach children a balanced curriculum that promotes equality and accepts diversity.