Ed Balls denies offering faith schools an opt-out from sex education rules

Ed Balls denies offering faith schools an opt-out from sex education rules February 23, 2010

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.

YUCK! Ed Balls demonstates how faith schools will be allowed to tackle subjects like homosexuality 'in a way that reflects their religious character'
The Children, Schools and Families Bill, which completes its passage through the Commons today, will require state schools in England to teach pupils about contraception and the importance of stable relationships, including civil partnerships, and it will forbid the promotion of homophobia.
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.

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  • Broga

    Do they still have these hoity-toity faith schools for girls, in the past the nun fodder was mainly from professional parents, anxious to ensure that their sensitive offspring have an appropriately cultured start in life? Some must survive, somewhere, musn’t they? If so, I would like to hear the virginal, and elderly nuns, providing a fair and equal approach to the theory, practice and tecnicalities of gay relationships.
    On the other hand, some of these holy ladies, escapees from the concentration camp laundries of Ireland, might be assumed to be most expert on laundry work.

  • Neuseline

    What a lot of trot, Mr Balls. If I were no lady I would not use the word trot but rather a word that springs to mind when one hears your name. Of course faith schools will instil homophobia and hatred if they are allowed to teach sex education that “reflects their religious character”. That’s what religions are about. How naïve of him to think otherwise.
    According to Radio4 news the Catholic Church is behind this latest crazy idea.

  • Bollocks as we say in Yorkshire…the Chrutches…sorry Church’s are howling that they’ve won and got their own way on this….so standard Nu-Labour twisting of the truth … as per the Equality Bill they’ve given into the fundies and baby eating Bishops as usual.
    Speaking of Bishops I finally got a reply after numerous letters from the ArchBigot of York… best line in it was “Whilst I disagree with the points that you make, I appreciate you taking the time to write to me”..Is that christianospeak for “F*ck Off” I wonder ??

  • Amy

    It’ll probably just end up the way that evolution classes in my Christian high school went. “This is what the evil liberal government forces us to teach you if we want to get any funding at all…” (half an hour spin through something that the textbook says should take a month) “This is the truth that secularists don’t want you to know” (over a month’s worth of creationist canards, particularly the watchmaker argument, with a bit of Pascal’s Wager to boot) They may be required to teach it, but who says they’re required to give it adequate time, or not misrepresent it?

  • Broga

    I heard the Radio 4 News Item. The change was brought about as a result of lobbying by the Roman Catholic Church. Much more successful that the rejection of the many pages of detail and carefully presented facts in the secularist attempt to gain entry to Thought for the Day. I wonder why that is? No connexion, I suppose, with the highly paid Director of the BBC who is a devout Roman Catholic?
    Enough to make you puke.

  • JohnMWhite

    When I was at a Catholic High School, our sex education consisted of the bare bones mechanics and that fact that sex = babies. That was it. Certainly there was no discussion of contraception, but there was nothing discussed about it in a social context at all. Homosexuality, for instance, just was not mentioned. At all. I fail to see how an amendment allowing for faith schools to teach such issues in line with the character of their faith would improve things in any manner.
    It’s the typical New Labour approach to reality – maintain the opposite no matter how ridiculous you look. Balls claims “There’s no opt-out for any faith school from teaching the full, broad, balanced curriculum on sex education” which cannot possibly be true if there is a provision for schools to teach “in such a way that reflects their religious character”. To the Catholic Church for example, condoms help spread AIDS. If Catholic schools are allowed to teach about contraception in a way which reflects their religious character, then yes, there is an opt-out for them which allows them to not teach a full, broad, balanced curriculum on sex education. They are instead allowed to teach lies, which they already are, so there doesn’t really seem to be any difference being made by this bill in the first place.

  • Broga

    The approach is the usual shifty, deceitful, conniving Roman Catholic approach. I expect they feel a sense of triumph having got their own sick way again. So easy to ignore the rotten filth they leave behind them when they have power: the agony inflicted on helpless children in their Homes; the rapes by frustrated priests, the beatings by sexually repressed nuns, the lies from their pulpits condemning abortion while an Irish bishop pays to have a child aborted by his mistress. All this and more and still New Labour, Ed Balls, the contemptible Blair and the rest still whine and strut their fake and phony protestations.
    And, the aspect that really stings, because of their lies and deceits, they are able to force the rest of us to pay for this crap through our taxes.

  • Angela_K

    This is no surprise from our corrupt and lying government; they cravenly give in to the demands of the religious zealots just to chase votes. Whatever happened to Labour’s equality ideology? And I wish they would stop using the trendy fluffy term, “Faith Schools” they are Religious schools FFS! There should be one law and one school curriculum for everyone, free of religious interference.
    That Ed Balls, looks like a cross between a dodgy used car salesman and a TV evangelist.

  • Tony

    I went to a Catholic high school in the late 80s (1980s, not 1880s) and there was NO sex education whatsoever. We were subjected to one anti-abortion video. I listened to Ed Balls being grilled by John Humphrys this morning and it was just embarrassing. Balls was basically trying to argue that black was white ,and that the op-out clause was not what it obviously is..a concession to backwards-leaning faith schools.

  • terry

    I agree with you there’s no way the fundies will make an effort to teach equality and contraception, even if they’re forced they wont’t if it contradicts there dogma. Ernest Hemingway said “all thinking men are atheist” fundies don’t think they are prepared to believe somebody walked on water, turned water into wine, brought people back from the dead and that somebody lived in the belly of a fish for 3 days. But if you ask a fundie about evolution, its no no no, thats too crazy to be true.

  • Broga

    Angela K Faith schools, faith communities and the rest. But what faith. And what is the nature of those communities?
    terry. How do they believe this? What do they think the are doing. A world riven by religious strive; devasted by exploding population, creatures being made extinct every day and still the madness continues.

  • Don

    I absolutely agree that all education should be secular. Kids are in school for about 30 to 35 hours a week, about 39 weeks of the year. If they are from a ‘faith community’ then they are quite likely being indoctrinated for a lot of the remaining hours. Even that isn’t enough for them. It seems that any secular space is a threat to the purity of their beliefs.
    Of course, it doesn’t work. Their numbers dwindle as kids walk away from the palpable nonsense they have been forced to sit through.
    And of course many of these schools will do just enough to tick the boxes to keep OFSTED happy while undermining the intended point. Two minutes on what a condom is, 53 minutes on why you’ll go to hell if you use one.
    When my daughter was in sixth form at a very good state school an RE teacher told the class, as established fact, that homosexuals would go to hell. These were pretty sophisticated kids and they politely but strongly objected. Apart from anything else, they pointed out, she must know that there were gay kids in the school and others struggling with their sexual identity. This, they insisted, was a cruel and harmful thing to say. The teacher replied that she sympathised, it was indeed terrible, but god’s law was god’s law. She personally felt sorry for them, but that was how it was. As it happens this teacher was serving her last few weeks before moving to an evangelical school and nothing happened about it.
    So, yeah. It’s bad that religion has such a grip on education. But one thing worries me about going in like gangbusters and turfing the lot of them out; home-schooling.
    Politically, legally I doubt that anything could be done to stop parents dropping out of properly regulated education completely. We just have to look to the states to see the results of widespread religion-based home-schooling.
    If anyone can see a practical way around that I’d be glad to hear it. I suspect we may have to settle for gradual,incremental change.

  • barriejohn

    This is being discussed on another blog, where a guy as young as twenty says that at the Catholic school which he attended the school counsellor was a nun. When he went to her, as a gay pupil suffering from depression, she told him that he was possessed by demonic forces! Can you imagine the effect that that sort of thing has on young minds?

  • Janstince

    Be careful with this one. Across the pond over here, we’re trying to get all the “Abstinence-only” federal funding decisions reversed. Thanks to the religious hypocrites, we’re now seeing increasing teen pregnancies and swaths (sp?) of STDs taking hold in the population all over the fear of a little latex. Same crap the Catlicks spout in Africa.

  • barriejohn

    In trying to find out exactly what is being proposed her, I found this on the Guardian site:
    “This is what the Catholic Education Service has put on their website
    CESEW LOBBYING SECURES tabling of amendment to Children, Schools and Families Bill regarding PSHE (12 February 2010)
    The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Rt Hon Ed Balls MP, tabled an amendment to the Children, Schools and Families Bill on 10 February 2010 designed to protect the ability of schools with a religious character to teach Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education (which includes Sex and Relationships Education (SRE)) in accordance with the ethos of the school.
    The amendment was tabled following a period of extensive lobbying by the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales, and reads as follows:
    Page 14, line 6 [Clause 11], at end insert
    (7A) Subsections (4) to (7) are not to be read as preventing the governing body or head teacher of a school within subsection (7B) from causing or allowing PSHE to be taught in a way that reflects the school’s religious character.
    (7B) A school is within this subsection if it is designated as a school having a religious character by an order made by the Secretary of State under section 69(3) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.
    So are they liars… or is Balls the liar with his line that they have been forced for the first time to do something they do not want to do.
    All the existing precedents say that the school can choose the school’s religious character. All the school has to do is issue a mission statement making clear it intends the character of the school to be pro Church doctrine, then this clause gives them an absolute opt-out. The bishops etc who are given practical and legal control of these schools decide on the school’s religious character.”

  • barriejohn

    I have been looking further at the Catholic Education Service, who are crowing about a victory here! A visit to their website is a true eyeopener, especially this page:
    Here is an extract:
    Pope offers encouragement to all those involved in education during Bishops’ ad limina visit (2 February 2010)
    His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has offered words of encouragement to teachers in their role of spreading the Gospel during the Bishops of England and Wales’ recent ad limina visit.
    He said, “If the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice. This requires not only you, the Bishops, but also priests, teachers, catechists, writers – in short all who are engaged in the task of communicating the Gospel – to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, who guides the whole Church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal.”
    Where is the mention of “education” there then?

  • barriejohn

    If you visit their home page you will see how much lobbying they have been doing!

  • Neuseline

    I detected a small glimmer of hope during tonight’s BBC1 News at 10. Brown announced that parents should be given a greater say in how a school should be run and that they can even remove teachers and HEADteachers (wow). Maybe, just maybe, enough enlightened parents can get together to vote off RE teachers and to stop the time wasting religious assemblies.

  • Janstince

    @ Barriejohn
    “Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission. In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.” (from the same page).
    Says it all right there, the “lay faithful.” Just reading this gives me the willies. He’s basically saying that though all opinions are seen as valid, at least in the context that the person has a right to it, the “dissent” should be basically dismissed out of hand. So what is the debate he’s talking about? Because when the religiots bring up some of their talking points, and we question the value to society these have, does it count as “contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate” when they stick their fingers in their ears and go “LA LA LA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” I was always taught that that was a definite weakness in an argument. But then again, maybe I didn’t have proper teachers, going to a secular school and all…

  • barriejohn

    @Neuseline: My view is diametrically opposed to yours, and those words fill me with dread! Who do you think will be the active parents who are organizing themselves to oust teachers with whose views and methods they disagree, only to replace them with people more to their liking? Why, the religiots and right-wingers, of course! They already co-opt people of their own ilk onto governing bodies left right and centre, with the help of local vicars who are often school governors, ex officio, for some strange reason, and this will be sweet music to their ears!!

  • barriejohn

    There is already an Association of Muslim Governors working to get more of the crackpots onto school governing bodies in this country:
    They are even using charitable status (ie taxpayers’ money) to do it!
    Please wake up and smell the coffee!!

  • JohnMWhite

    That is quite scary, Janstince, and familiar. The idea to treat dissent not as “a mature contribution” but as something somehow impulsive and childish was utilised quite liberally in my own experience at a Catholic high school. Religious Education was never really taken seriously, but students who did engage with it and ask probing questions or voice alternative opinions on issues were seen as trouble makers. Questioning was genuinely punished, you were only expected to parrot back the information given to you, or better yet just not pay any attention, since RE wasn’t examined anyway and that way the RE teachers could have a coffee and read the paper.

  • barriejohn

    @Neuseline: I have just posted a comment about the Association of Muslim Governors, and it has, infuriatingly, disappeared! I urge you and others to look them up on the web, to see just what exactly is already going on!!

  • barriejohn

    The Bill was passed with a majority of 345 and without debate, due to “a lack of parliamentary time”!
    Commons backs sex education move

    MPs have backed a government move to allow sex education to be taught in England in a way that “reflects” a school’s “religious character”.
    The amendment to the Children, Schools and Families Bill was passed by a majority of 345 in the Commons.
    Opponents had said ministers showed “cowardice” by making the amendment in the face of religious groups’ lobbying.
    The government insisted there had been no “watering down” of plans to make all schools teach the biology of sex.
    The “religious character” amendment to the bill was passed without debate due to a lack of parliamentary time.
    ‘Major step forward’
    The change follows what the Catholic Education Service claimed had been a period of “extensive lobbying”.
    Opponents of the amendment have argued it could allow faith schools to teach sex and relationships educations in ways that are homophobic, gender discriminatory and in violation of principles of human rights.
    Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said the government had “once more bowed to pressure from the Catholic Church, betraying the children in faith schools who have a right to objective and balanced sex education”.
    “This cowardice will blight many lives,” he added.

  • barriejohn
  • barriejohn
  • Neuseline

    My glimmer of hope arises from the fact that the majority of people in this country is not religious and is in fear of fundamentalism in any form creeping into the schools. I know it would be impossible to influence the so-called faith schools, but in the rising generation, that of my grandchildren, there are more declared atheists than believers, even children of religious parents.

  • barriejohn

    @Neuseline: The point is – will these tolerant, rational people be the activists who set the future agenda?

  • Brian Jordan

    @Neuseline: Time to set up some cat-herding classes then, at least.
    @Barriejohn: it’s not just the odd demented RE teacher who believes in demons.

    Congress participants argued that demonology lessons should be treated more seriously in seminaries and that ordinary people, too, would benefit from knowing more about exorcisms. During the congress, the priests discussed the main causes of possession by demons such as occult, esoteric beliefs like magic, eastern meditation and homeopathy.
    In the 1990s, there were three exorcists practicing in Poland. Today, their number has exceeded one hundred. Each is appointed by a local bishop. The congresses are held twice a year. (kk/mmj)


  • JohnMWhite

    Brian Jordan, I believe that was a congress made up specifically of priests rather than Poland’s political houses.
    I believe barriejohn has a point about those who will be the most likely to be engaging with schools to set the agenda. While I was at school it was fortunately through apathy that the PTA was largely formed from relatively liberal parents who wanted more robust sex education and less time wasted on masses and prayers, but this simply allowed the senior teachers at the school to exercise their political muscles as they talked out of both sides of their mouth. Ultimately their aim was for the status quo in order to enhance their own careers – my former principle is now the head of the Catholic Education Commission in Scotland, basically our equivalent of England’s Catholic Education Service. You don’t get to that job by promoting frank and honest debate.
    Anyway, we cannot hope that the next generation’s apathy toward religion will eventually swamp the efforts of the zealots. Those whose parents who force them to go to a religious school have the right to a comprehensive education whether or not they stand a chance of being fooled by the faith’s nonsense. We cannot have teenagers wandering around not knowing properly how to protect themselves and each other, whether or not they buy the bullshit that condoms send you to hell.

  • barriejohn

    New Labour are desperate to court the religious vote, especially in regions like Scotland where their core support has collapsed. This article will take your breath away, if you have not already read it:
    Jim Murphy Plays The Religion Card To Win Votes
    Comments were highlighted on the blog today, including one by Terry Sanderson:

  • NeoWolfe

    I don’t like to make waves, but at the time of the American Revolution, England had a state church, and a nasty reputation for torturing and killing opponents.
    Recently, Will Jones posted a comment to the effect that the real black stain on America, slavery, was opposed by religion. That’s bullshit. Actually, the abolition of slavery and freedom of religion were Freemason concepts.
    Well we got past the slavery and the religious persecution, bless our hearts, now we have to get past religious ignorance. And as society plods slowly toward the light, the religious right wants to drag us back into the Crusades, to keep us ignorant, to preserve their power and influence. What blows my mind is that these yuppies are paying crippling prices to have their children mentally neutered in a religious school.

  • barriejohn

    @NeoWolfe: “mentally neutered” – I like that one! And what blows OUR minds in Great Britain is that the state actually PAYS for this religious indoctrination!!