British Humanist Association (BHA), to whom Dorset Humanists are affiliated, have been working hard on the Children, Schools and Families Bill, especially on PSHE, which includes Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). Ken Purchase MP, member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, had already tabled amendments to the Bill to make it even stronger and that sought to promote children’s rights, to stop parents being able to withdraw their children from SRE, and to ensure that all schools must teach PSHE in ways that promote equality and diversity. Although they didn’t pass, there was a lot of support from MPs for our position.
So we were aghast last week when we noticed that the Government had tried to slip through a last minute amendment of its own. This amendment effectively exempts “faith schools” from having to teaching SRE accurately, in ways that are balanced, promote equality and respect for diversity, and reflect different views. This was a u-turn from the original commitment in the Bill.
Together with the Accord Coalition and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), the BHA broke the story to the press, with a fantastic response in the broadsheets, online and broadcast media. Andrew’s article on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site remained in the top most-viewed articles for days!
Within hours, the Government had “tweeted” its denial that it was making such disgraceful concessions to religious groups (the Catholic Education Service had taken the credit for this amendment being tabled). It then made formal responses to our condemnation of its proposals in the papers and on Radio 4’s Today. None of their excuses held up to the reality that their amendment did not just “clarify” the law but significantly changed it in favour of faith schools and against the rights of children and parents to have full SRE taught.
It wasn’t just us, or even our allies in Accord and CRAE, that made the difference. Well over 1000 (over 700 in the first 24 hours!) of you responded to our special e-bulletin asking you to use our facility, set-up exclusively to allow you to email your MPs and ask them to oppose the Government’s move. That is the kind of joint-working that forced the Government to make a statement in the House of Commons about the subject, and although their amendment has gone through we will continue to fight for its removal, and the huge public support and media coverage our actions precipitated have been a powerful statement in themselves.
A dozen or more Dorset Humanists emailed their Dorset MPs on Monday 22nd February asking them to vote against Amendment 70. Thanks for making a difference!
Welcome to Dorset Humanists
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.