IT used to be agreed that parents were responsible for their child’s best interests in matters of personal, emotional and physical development, but now it is seemingly becoming an assumption that the State is a better overseer of these interests. Official busybodies are increasingly creating opportunities to talk to children beyond the earshot of parents. They say that if you’re doing nothing wrong, why worry? But that’s not the point. It’s intrusive. And it’s creating an ever-increasing wedge in the parent-child bond, since the topics of conversation are personal and private. The more apathetic parents are to this interference with their natural authority, the more it will spread.
The infiltration started with the schools’ overseer, Ofsted. As the remit of its portfolio expanded from the early 1990s, its inspection methods widened. Inspectors who used to make an educational assessment became more interested in pupils’ ‘personal development’ – a category best assessed by observing and interviewing children. By cultivating a focus on non-discrimination and equality law, inspectors were emboldened to ask girls and boys if they knew any gay or bisexual people, or how babies were made, or whether their wearing of a hijab was ‘sexualisation’. It didn’t matter that the children were all under 13 and enrolled in faith-based schools where it was obvious that their parents’ preference would be for these topics to be sensitively broached at an age-appropriate time in the home.
The sex education curriculum in schools started deviating beyond the oversight of parents as schools began to deem it appropriate to teach children sensitive content without warning their parents. Eleven-year-olds were given homework to ‘define’ different types of pornography, primary school children received ‘pro-trans’ lessons, and graphic sexual images were shown to ages eight and nine during a lesson about ‘self-stimulation’. Not only did teachers fail to consult parents in any of these instances, but it was only after a parent-led petition and independent review that the local authority in one case was forced to remove its endorsement of the explicit material. Children had already been long exposed to it by this point.
School guidance started to be circulated to advise teachers to discuss pupils’ gender dysphoria issues within the classroom but not with parents. In Scotland, guidance used by more than 30 local authorities advised schools that a child’s privacy excluded parents needing to know about transgender choices, and schools in England started increasingly using a child’s ‘preferred’ pronouns without deeming it appropriate to contact home. The well-known Keira Bell case from last year did nothing to stop these practices, even though the High Court (relying on expert evidence) declared that it was ‘highly unlikely’ or ‘very doubtful’ that teenage children could properly consent to taking life-altering puberty blocking drugs which are likely to lead to surgery as an adult.
Now the Children’s Commissioner is having a go. In a current national survey called The Big Ask, she is asking young children about their mental health, relationships, education and gender issues. From the age of six onwards, children are encouraged to fill in a questionnaire which includes the section ‘I am a . . . ’ The answers are ‘girl’, ‘boy’, ‘I don’t want to say’, and ‘I identify as’ (with an empty box for children to ‘tell us how you identify’). There’s no suggestion anywhere in the survey that children should discuss the answers with a responsible adult.
And if parents think that home educating might offer them and their rights a measure of protection, they will be disappointed to discover that in England and Wales there have been calls for children to be interviewed annually by local authorities outside parents’ hearing. Best guesses are that the content will include more than academic subjects.
All of this leads to the fundamental question: has the steady encroachment on parental primacy been appropriately balanced? The examples above certainly show that state representatives consider themselves to be the most appropriate people for children to discuss their development with. This significantly waters down Britain’s longstanding recognition of parental primacy.
Thankfully, some are standing up against the intrusion. A leading QC last week advised that the Scottish schools’ transgender guidance was legally flawed; it was reported this week that a gender-specialist barrister has advised that English schools’ gender reporting practices are outside their powers, and the new equalities chief, Baroness Falkner, has kicked back against the trend to silence people who say ‘sex is real’.
Still, a lot more can be done. Parents need to be aware and suspicious of the trend of sidelining them with the reassurance of ‘trust me, I’m from the government’, advocacy needs effectively to target the policy-makers and school management, and law needs to be clearly and persuasively articulated. Without this, the movement to sexualise children through a public broker will see parental primacy become a memory.