YOU may not have noticed it, but there is a quiet revolution under way in Wales. The innocuous-sounding Curriculum and Assessment Bill, which is slowly making its way through the Welsh Assembly, seeks to scrap all existing protections in relation to sex education and force every pupil to attend ‘Relationships and Sexuality Education’ (RSE) class. There are no exemptions, no understanding of those with strong religious or philosophical objections, or protections for parents who think the material is wildly inappropriate.
A selection of what has been used elsewhere in the UK can be found here (warning: graphic words and images). Such inappropriate and medically unwise material has been actively promoted by several councils including Warwickshire county council.
Alongside the changes to RSE, the legislation, which is the brainchild of Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams, would also replace Religious Education with new teaching on Religion, Values and Ethics (RVE), while failing to explain what values and ethics will be taught.
Again, all pupils would be forced to attend all lessons. The parental right of withdrawal to protect freedom of conscience will be abolished, despite strong opposition, including from the Welsh Government’s own public consultation.
In answer to the question ‘Should the right to withdraw from RE and RSE (relationships and sexuality education) be retained?’ 86.9 per cent said yes and fewer than one in ten (9.1 per cent) answered no.
The proposals have rightly been described as a ‘direct attack’ on the teaching of religion, and would see decisions over the content of RVE handed to new ‘non-religious’ committees to be established in every local authority area.
Membership of these new non-religious committees would have to include humanists and atheists. The committees could block curriculum proposals from Christian denominations, who represent some 1.8million people, or from other faiths.
No wonder when asked, ‘Do you agree with the proposed approach to RE?’ just one in five (22 per cent) answered yes. Six in ten (62.2 per cent) answered no.
Ms Williams has tried to dismiss political critics of the Bill with the usual and somewhat lazy refrain that those who oppose the changes are dinosaurs from a bygone age or all the material will be age-appropriate.
But neither the curriculum nor associated material has been published, so Members of the Senedd are being asked to vote blind on the most radical overhaul of both sex education and RE in living memory while stripping away long-held parental protections.
Parents should not and must not be sidelined from their children’s education on sex and religion – the two most controversial subjects you could imagine. And schools must not be forced to teach controversial material that they, or the families they serve, disagree with.
I hope that Ms Williams pulls back from the brink and realises the serious flaws in her plans, but if she does not and Welsh Labour impose these changes on parents and children alike, it will cause chaos and further marginalise people of faith from the public square.