Today the Scottish Government have published new guidance on the Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) Education. The Humanist Society Scotland have issued a ‘cautious welcome’, you can see our full response here.
Whilst I think there is much about this guidance to welcome, such as the guidance that schools should acknowledge ‘lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships in a positive manner’ and that young people of secondary age should have much greater say over whether to attend, and even the content of RSHP education, it’s not all rosy.
Paragraph 36 says:
“It is also important that RSHP education addresses diversity and, for example, reflects issues relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) young people or children with LGBTI parents, such as same sex marriage and hate-crime reporting. A survey has shown that LGBT young people experience high levels of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. Another useful resource for schools and teachers is the ‘Dealing with Homophobia and Homophobic Bullying in Scottish Schools, a Toolkit for Teachers’. As indicated above, all bullying is wrong.”
This is certainly an improvement on the guidance which it replaces from 2001. However, one glaring inequality remains in the guidance, that is the opt-out for denominational faith schools. In paragraphs 38-41, the guidance sets out that “It is recognised that religious authorities with a role in denominational education provide guidance on RSHP education for their denominational schools and that right will continue at present’”
In practice that means that the majority of faith schools in Scotland, which are Roman Catholic, will continue to have their RSHP education set by the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Scotland. To put this into perspective; 1-in-5 pupils in Scotland attend faith schools, the vast majority of which will not have any particular religious faith – if polling figures are to be believed. Yet the Scottish Government is content to give the Catholic Church a continued role in setting the RSHP education guidance.
The Humanist Society Scotland is deeply disappointed about this, our Chief Executive, Douglas McLellan, summed the situation up well when he said:
“In their own guidance, the Government say that “It is well evidenced that high-quality RSHP education may contribute to a delay in the onset of sexual activity, reduce the likelihood of unintended teenage pregnancies and may contribute to a reduction of sexual relationships under coercive relationships” – this is all true, which is why it should be applicable to faith schools as well!”
On Monday 3 November 2014, we announced a new campaign in the run-up to the publication of new guidance on Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) Education by the Scottish Government. Backed by 14 notable public figured in Scotland, our campaign called upon Scottish Ministers to:
- Ensure that ALL young Scots have access to high quality evidence-based RSHP.
- Request that all Scottish schools work cooperatively with local health boards.
- Increase the training and support available to teachers who deliver RSHP.
- Commit to ensure LGBT relationship and sex education is available to all young people; and
- Recognise the rights of children to make their own decisions about accessing RSHP.
During the campaign hundreds of you helped us by signing a petition, and thanks to our supporters 132 emails were sent to MSPs of every party and location around Scotland. We had the support of Patrick Harive from the Scottish Greens and Alison McInnes from Scottish Liberal Democrats, Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour Health spokesperson, even wrote to the Scottish Government specifically to highlight issues raised in our campaign and Ruth Davidson from the Scottish Conservatives wrote to us to thank us for raising this important issue with the Scottish Government, John Mason from the SNP even got in touch to tell us that he supported a number of our proposals!
Our job in education is far from over. Whilst the new guidance represents a move in the right direction, the effective veto which faith schools are given for RSHP education goes against everything we stand for.