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Dorset Humanists is a welcoming group for humanists, atheists and agnostics who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. We meet in Bournemouth for informative and enjoyable presentations, debates and discussions on a wide range of subjects including ethics, science, religion, philosophy, politics, our environment and much more. We also organise regular social events.

Religious exemptions amendment will ruin this hard-won Bill

Source: HumanistLife
Update 23 February - Andrew Copson in The Guardian with 350 comments Listen to a 6 minute section (14'40"- 21'30"on BBC R4 PM Programme on 23rd February. Catholic Education Service Press Release - 24 February MTPT blog Update 25 February - 
  • Children, Schools and Families Bill 2009-10
    • all Bill stages — Children, Schools and Families Bill 2009-10
    • Clause 11 of the Bill with the words Ed Balls’ amendment (amendment number 70) would insert in red.
      • PSHE IN MAINTAINED SCHOOLS
        • Amendments proposed: 70, page 14, line 6, 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.'.
      • Question put (Single Question on amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown), That amendments 67 to 70, 3, 93 to 98, 111 to 132 and 99 to 107 be made.- (Mr. Coaker.)
        • Result: The House divided: Ayes 386, Noes 41.
        • MPs in Dorset emailed by Dorset Humanists
          • Noes
            • SWe - Annette Brooke MP, Mid Dorset and Poole North
          • PSt, SBu and JLo emailed their MPs.
          • Ayes 
            • SHa - Robert Syms MP, Poole
            • PWa, MWa, S & C St - Desmond Swayne MP, New Forest West, who replied to all of us making it clear that he disagreed with our viewpoint.
            • JWa - Jim Knight MP, South Dorset
            • J and C Go - Tobias Ellwood MP, Bournemouth East
            • BJo Robert Walter MP, Dorset North
A few minutes after Amendment 70 (and other ammendments) was passed:-
Mr. Coaker:
There is nothing in the Bill that diminishes these principles or lessens their impact on faith schools. Although faith schools will, as now, be able to teach their faith's views on issues that arise within the teaching of PSHE, what they will not be able to do is suggest that their views are the only valid ones, and they must make it clear that there are a wide range of divergent views. For example, a Catholic school will be required to teach about contraception. In doing so, it will have to be accurate in the sense of providing the facts about contraception. It will have to be balanced in the sense of indicating that there are different views about contraception, but it would also be able to reflect the views of the Catholic Church about the use of contraception.
Mr. Laws:
Will the Minister clarify, in the light of amendment 70, which has been passed today, whether it will be possible for faith schools to teach that homosexuality is wrong?
Mr. Coaker:
Such schools could say that that is the view of their particular religion, but what they will not be able to do is to state that that is the only view that exists. They will not be able to say that other religions do not have different views or that people of no faith do not have different views.
Mr. Laws:
Can the Minister tell us why the amendment was necessary, and when it was agreed with people outside the House?


Mr. Coaker:
We always have discussions with people outside the House, as do our officials. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had discussions with a wide range of organisations before and during the introduction of the Bill. We want to deliver a Bill that will work and that will lead to radical reform. Doing that in government sometimes means balancing competing priorities, but we are trying to deliver, and will deliver, really fundamental and radical reform.


Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab):
Promoting the principles of equality, tolerance and diversity is essential to a child's development and the prevention of bullying. How can my hon. Friend reassure me about the methods that we use to ensure that allowing a school to promote its faith will not contradict those principles, and will he agree to meet me and other concerned Members to discuss the Bill's implementation after it has been passed?


Mr. Coaker:
At present, faith schools can teach about homosexuality, but they are not required to do so in an accurate and balanced way. The principles in the Bill will ensure that that happens. Ofsted will be required to ensure that they are complied with, and we will look carefully at its reports.



Compulsory sex and relationships education in all schools? About time! Don’t ruin it now, Naomi Phillips tells the Government.
After years of calls from campaigners, educational experts, teachers, parents, young people, and backed by all the evidence that comprehensive sex education is better for health and happiness, the Children, Schools and Families Bill is finally making PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) – which crucially includes Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) – mandatory in all schools. This applies to both community and “faith” schools. Even better then that the Bill clearly stipulates that it is not enough for schools just to teach SRE, but already requires them to teach SRE in ways that are age appropriate, reflect a variety of views, are appropriate to the cultural backgrounds of pupils, are accurate, balanced and promote equality and diversity. This is a hugely important change in policy that seems focused on the rights, needs and realities of young people’s lives in the 21st Century.
And yet, with just days left to go before the final stages of the Bill in the Commons, the British Humanist Association (BHA) is working with others including the Accord Coalition, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) and the UK Youth Parliament, to counter a serious last-minute change to the Bill that could seriously infringe on the rights of children in “faith schools” to fair and balanced education.
The Government has tabled an amendment to the Bill that effectively gives state-funded “faith schools” an opt-out from all the requirements described above, should the school feel that the requirements go against the religious character of the school. In other words, “faith schools” need not teach SRE in ways that promote equality, diversity or even that the information provided is accurate, let alone balanced. This is an amendment that trades children’s rights for the support of a vocal, religious minority (note that the Catholic Education Service is claiming credit for this “victory”).
In practice, this could mean that “faith schools” can teach homophobic doctrine in SRE. The Accord Coalition has described the amendment as a “21st Century Section 28“. This should sound shocking. It is.
The amendment flies in the face of the report (PDF) on the Children, Schools and Families Bill by parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, which had praised the Government for developing an SRE policy based on human rights principles (for example, that SRE needs to promote equality and deliver objective and, you know, accurate information!). The report did contain its caveats: the Bill probably did not go far enough to ensure that pupils in “faith schools” are guaranteed an equivalent standard of SRE that their friends in community schools will receive. But if Balls’ self-proposed amendment goes through then these principles will be completely undermined anyway.
Our concerns are not just about little details, such as violations of children’s rights to good education! Nor that, as the committee’s report suggests, there is likely to be a gender-unequal effect of unbalanced SRE (it is girls, after all, “for whom the personal price of insufficient access to information about sex and relationships is likely to be higher than boys”). Nor simply that gay pupils in “faith schools” now face real risks of harassment and discrimination through the narrow, subjective, religious teaching of SRE, not least, as the committee again points out, because the Government failed to outlaw harassment on grounds of sexual orientation in schools in its much-hailed Equality Bill.
These are all very real, very powerful concerns. But the biggest concern must be the effect across the board.  Age-appropriate sex and relationships education means that young people as they grow up are better able to avoid exploitative and unhealthy relationships and engage maturely and confidently in healthy relationships. They have the information they need to access sexual health services and the advice hey might need as they mature.
It should not matter what sort of school the preferences of their parents or the lottery of their postcode has landed each child in. Wherever they happen to be educated, sex and relationships education should be truthful, accurate, and appropriate to them, not to the prejudices of their teachers or the church that happens to run their state-funded school.
In Holland, the teenage pregnancy rate has been dramatically reduced since the introduction of compulsory sex and relationships education, which begins in primary schools and includes objective teaching about different sexualities as well as age-appropriate learning about contraception. We know from evidence from parts of America that teach only abstinence in place of an objective and accurate curriculum of SRE, that it has no effect on behaviour; teenagers still do what teenagers have done since before our ancestors left the trees, but they do it without benefit of the knowledge and understanding that learning how to avoid pregnancy, disease and abusive relationships would give them in a proper curriculum. To deny them that and substitute it for guilt, suffering, disease, unwanted pregnancy, exploitation, neurosis, and ignorance is a clear failure of society. It’s a failure to nurture and protect future generations.
The Government’s u-turn on SRE is nothing short of an outrage. Unfortunately, as with so much of its education policy in the past 12 years, the Government seems more concerned to protect the interests of “faith schools”, than the rights of children.
References
Legislative Scrutiny: Children, Schools and Families Bill; other Bills

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