I signed off on my report Show, Tell and Leave Nothing to the Imagination in time to attend our school’s PSHE (personal, social and health education) consultation. Previously these have featured a consultant promoting Stonewall and her lesson on whether men or women have better orgasms.
Our school was no outlier. Recently two high profile reports highlighted how widespread gender ideology and “sex-positivity”, a no-holds barred approach to sex education, are in schools. This is borne out by our Civitas polling of pupils aged 16 to 18 of whom 41 per cent had been taught about sex positivity, 32 per cent had been told in school that “a woman can have a penis”, and 67 per cent that “sex is assigned at birth”, a transgender-promoting fallacy that conveniently bypasses biological reality.
The turning point at my school came with a planned lesson from an “expert” sex-positive agency whose website then featured a dominatrix offering sex education and pornographic prompts to its Instagram pages. A series of screenshots to the head teacher as part of a diligent parental campaign prompted an eleventh-hour cancellation and a commitment to bring all RSE (Relationship and Sex Education) back in-house.
That parents more widely want to preserve their right to intervene over RSE is strongly supported by our polling in which 77 per cent said they wanted to have unrestricted legal rights to see all RSE materials and lesson plans, 75 per cent would like to see accreditation for external speakers who visit schools and 64 per cent want the right to remove their children (currently quite restricted in England and Scotland and completely outlawed in Wales) from lessons related to sex, relationships and gender. With a host of parental support groups springing up on-line it seems like time for a parents’ union.
For some, sex education, encroaching as it does in family life, will always be controversial. The problem is more fundamental, however, and asks us to consider the very purpose of schools. It was a series of religious studies lessons promoting Black Lives Matter that first caught my attention. The presentations offered no British context and a series of partisan assertions. Was it responsible or compassionate to tell an admirably ethnically diverse class of 13-year-olds that simply by virtue of their skin colour some were victims, and other oppressors?
Also striking was the thoroughness of LGBT history month “celebrations”, not just in assembly but in lessons to study queer composers, a competition to redesign the school logo, a lunchtime LGBT art project, and the Pride Flag above the school. This embedding approach is core to the ideological approach of key agencies, most of whom have charitable status and some of whom are heavily funded by government.
Devolved nations have explicit “whole school” policies towards equality, diversity and inclusion issues which now permeate teaching as well as hiring. Even former education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, who updated impartiality guidelines, told Cop26 that he planned to put climate change at the heart of education so that “young people will be empowered to take action on the environment”.
In using the language of empowerment and activism schools risk teaching children what to think rather than how to think. This is delivered by teachers anxious to fulfil an increasingly complex set of legislative demands, by a host of self-appointed “expert” third-party providers. This might reasonably be called a social justice educational complex.
Of course, politics and society must be reflected in school but perhaps the most worrying of our findings is that nearly half of the pupils, 46 per cent, said they felt uncomfortable contributing their opinion when discussing contentious issues in case it led to abuse by other students. An education system that fails to enable and encourage the diversity and inclusion of different viewpoints isn’t really an education system at all.
Jo-Anne Nadler’s report Show Tell and Leave Nothing to the Imagination is published by Civitas