Aristotle, echoed by St Ignatius Loyala, famously said, ‘Give me a child till he’s seven, and I will show you the man’. The above more recent quotation demonstrates that it is not simply an observation on the importance of early education, but a warning of the dangers of interfering with and controlling it.
On Wednesday, 13th January the Westminster Education Forum – a body which describes itself as organising senior-level conferences on public policy relating to education and children services issues, with no policy agenda – hosted an online conference entitled Compulsory Sex and Relationships Education – implementation, support for teachers, mental health and wellbeing, inspection, and the impact of COVID-19. Despite their claim to have no policy agenda, however, what was chiefly distinctive was the consistent promotion of LGBT teaching; in order, it was claimed, to ensure that all children felt equally valued and free to be ‘themselves’. One speaker, Emma Chan of the School of Sexuality Education, actually said at one point that the imperative was to smash the heteronormative emphasis in education so as to make all teaching relative, inclusive, and non-judgmental – as if those elements are completely missing from more traditional teaching. In similar vein, Dougie Boyd, Director of Education for Brook, called for greater support for teachers to talk about being gay and LGBT issues – a message echoed by Stonewall Director of Education and Youth, Mo Wiltshire. Strategies for handling parental consultation figured large, with one speaker commenting that the new RSE Regulations have given parents an unprecedented handle for interference. This was clearly not good.
Delegates at the conference were hidden from each other. Maybe this is common practice with some large online meetings, but it would have been nice to know who else was attending. Though, that said, names were posted alongside questions and comments submitted via Chat, so some were identifiable, and it soon became clear that there were at least two diametrically opposed views.
At one point a delegate ventured to suggest that, as there is strong evidence that children fare better when brought up by a mother and a father, this should be reflected in teaching policy. Surprisingly – and inaccurately – this was dismissed out of hand by the panelists, who took the line that there is plenty of evidence showing that LGBT parents create a supportive and nurturing environment for children and young people, but dismissed rather contemptuously the validity or even existence of evidence showing that children fare better in a low conflict, stable family environment with a mother and a father, preferably biological.
In this they were demonstrably wrong and could perhaps, as a start, remedy the defect in their knowledge by reading the following: Fitzgibbons R.P. 2015 Growing up with gay parents: What is the big deal?https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4771005/; Allen D.W. 2013. High school graduation rates among children of same sex-households. Review of Economics of the Household 11: 635–58; Sarantakos S. 1996. Children in three contexts. Children Australia 21: 23–31. This is only to scratch the surface, of course, but it has to be said that the speakers’ apparent ignorance, combined with their apparent unwillingness to consider the evidence, hardly inspired confidence.
From then on it was all downhill. Resources by Sexwise, Stonewall, Brook and the like – all of which bodies take a sexually permissive, and even ‘adventurous’, line – were warmly recommended, and participants were firmly reminded that all schools are required to comply with Equality law and integrate LGBT teaching and perspectives throughout the curriculum. Even Jake Berger, Education Policy and Youth Engagement Officer for the Board of Deputies of the British Jews – who might have been expected to uphold the right of parents to withdraw their children from teaching that went against their religious beliefs – endorsed this approach, speaking approvingly of Jewish LGBT groups campaigning for recognition within the wider community.
It was an interesting conference. But one was left with the depressing conviction that education in England is no longer about informing children, with the aim of equipping them to make wise decisions based on a reasoned consideration of the evidence, and in the best interests of society as a whole, but has become rather a monochrome vehicle for the promotion of a particular form of ideology. For the best interests of children, and the future of our society, it is imperative that we recover true tolerance, diversity and inclusivity, and that the voices of those advocating traditional values be heard and recognised as well.