Parents’ reactionParent groups have been appalled at the lack of consultation and the proposed changes to the curriculum. Meetings have been held in Belfast city centre, Ballyclare, Ballymoney, Dungannon, Portrush and Portadown in response to what appears to be an imposed external dogma. Some politicians have become involved: for example, prominent MLA (Member of the Northern Ireland Local Assembly, our devolved parliament) Jonathon Buckley has launched a campaign called It’s time we let kids be kids. In introducing his campaign, he said:
Children have a right to innocence. A right some politicians and activists are trying to take away. Whatever happened to letting kids be kids? It’s time we stand up and speak out!In England too, opposition mounts. Sally Beck of The Conservative Woman has written about the “backlash against school transgender agenda”. And because it is pertinent to this article and relevant to my personal experience of being censored, it is worth noting the publication’s mission:
All who believe in liberty will share my concern about the growing threats to free speech, freedom of conscience and to our Western Judeo-Christian heritage. Left-liberal thinking dominates the news media (most worryingly the BBC) and academia, destroying independent and critical thought in the attempt to control how we speak and think.Beck writes of “widespread transgender indoctrination in our schools [. . .] the facts cannot be disputed or erased, however, often we are told that our genitals do not define our gender identity”. She continues in depth here and here. Laurence Fox, formerly of GB News, is equally concerned and said:
I was horrified at the absolute insanity of what our children are being taught in schools, they’re being taught that children can be born in the wrong body.In Scotland, the opposition also mounts. Stuart Waiton, a senior sociology and criminology lecturer, announced the formation of the Scottish Union for Education to fight for what he calls “education not indoctrination”. He writes that “sex education is being conducted in a manner which presses against the very idea of childhood. At the same time, children are being infantilised as the standard of education sinks.” He goes on to say:
The Scottish Government [is] promoting a form of transgender ideology in their schools’ guidance document entitled Supporting Transgender Pupils in Schools, [which includes] the highly contested idea that sex and gender are interchangeable, and that sex, rather than being an immutable biological character, is something that children can choose as part of their personal identity.Waiton adds:
Some may agree, others disagree, but the guidance document for Scottish educators assumes that it is a fact that sex is not fixed.And in Wales, Public Child Protection Wales, with Kim Isherwood as chair, has campaigned vigorously against the current agenda, their mission includes the following:
Here is Isherwood being interviewed by Brian Gerrish under the heading The Attack on the Minds of Our Children. She raises the issues of parental rights, the global sexualisation programme and the agenda being sold as a “safeguarding” platform to prevent teen pregnancies—exactly as it was to Northern Ireland MPs in Westminster. Public pushback is emerging from many countries. This video shows a large protest in Los Angeles under the banner of Leave Our Kids Alone. In Canada, arrangements are in place for a million-person march protesting at the imposition of a gender ideology, again under the banner of Leave Our Kids Alone. In addition, scenes from a recent gathering in Ottowa to protest the introduction of “explicit sexual content in schools and radical gender ideology” can be seen here.
Promote a high standard of Safeguarding to the Children of Wales; raise awareness of exploitation and abuse.
Campaign to ensure a wholesome approach to all aspects of Education, ensuring parental/carer involvement remains at the heart of all developments.
Parents have had enough of gender ideology and the overt sexualized materials in Canadian K–12 [primary- and secondary-age] schools.
Is this a world you want?Below is a selection of newspaper reports which appear to indicate a direction of travel and certainly cause alarm. Under the headline Home Office guidelines urge protection for civil servants whose gender ‘may vary regularly’, the Telegraph reports on the British Government’s interior ministry roadmap outlining “strategic shifts” required to achieve its targets, which are called “Inclusion and Diversity Pillars”. The Telegraph has also reported that doctors have been advised not to speak of “boys and girls”. The Times have reported that staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital have been told there are “150 ways to express gender”. On 20 September 2023, the Daily Mail published an article entitled Children WON'T be banned from changing their gender identity at schools under new bill as PM Rishi Sunak backs away from including outright block on 'social transitioning'. The paper also reports that British schools are increasingly adopting gender-neutral uniform policies by allowing children to choose clothes based on their self-identified gender—and in many cases the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are erased from uniform policy documents:
Hundreds of schools are using the gender-neutral terms ‘Uniform A’ and ‘Uniform B’ instead of saying boys and girls. Primary schools have abolished uniforms ‘based on sex’ to let children as young as four wear clothes that ‘most reflect their self-identified gender’.In August 2022, the Daily Mail published an article entitled EXCLUSIVE: 'Women are being erased by the NHS': Fury over NHS health guidance on periods that doesn't mention girls or women once and instead refers to 'people who bleed', which quotes experts as saying that these “omissions could confuse and even potentially harm children”. In June 2022, the BBC reported Doctors’ concern over reduced mention of women in the updated guidance for ovarian cancer. The article states:
Until February, the NHS guidance began by explaining ovarian cancer was "one of the most common types of cancer for women". [. . .] Now, the only specific mention of women comes on the third page with the explanation that ovarian cancer can affect "women, trans men, non-binary people and intersex people with ovaries.Headlines such as these appear to be indicating the direction of travel for our Northern Ireland education service and, as I shall show below, appear to be in line with UK-wide government advice for the RSE curriculum. I wholly concur with the views of my fellow retired head teacher Chris McGovern, Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, when he says:
Schools are adding to the mental health problems of children who, after going into school, no longer know what gender they belong to.
The government caseIt is in this context that the Northern Ireland Secretary of State of the UK Government explained in the Westminster Parliament, when introducing secondary legislation over the heads of the Northern Ireland Assembly:
Sexual and reproductive health education is an important component in ensuring that women and girls are well informed of the choices available to them.He then referred to the CEDAW report for Northern Ireland, which declared that Relationships and Sexuality Education in the Province is “underdeveloped or non-existent”, adding:
We know that the current system is failing children in Northern Ireland when it comes to sexual education.The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) carried out an investigation to assess the extent to which post-primary schools (for age 11 and above) in Northern Ireland are providing “age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering the prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion”, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 2018 Report, and incorporated into UK law. The Commission stated:
The investigation found that the curriculum on relationships and sexuality education in post-primary schools does not meet human rights standards to which the Government is bound.The Commission went on to claim that this is not good enough and that schools must go further in promoting "gender diversity" (meaning acceptance of the idea that children can swap gender or belong to some new gender like "non-binary gender-queer" or "neutrois"). In Parliament, the Secretary of State appeared to attribute the “failings” to the discretion that Boards Of Governors have in determining what is to be taught. However, Mr Sammy Wilson MP, Vice-Chair of the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Covid response, says that:
[…[ schools, boards of governors, teachers and parents insist that this part of the curriculum has attached to it some of their religious values—what their faith dictates.This is precisely why Local Management of Schools was introduced, certainly in Northern Ireland, so that schools were responsive and responsible to local parent and stakeholder values. Likewise, Open Enrolment (freedom to choose schools) was introduced precisely so that parents could select the educational institution which meet their needs and values. Article 4 of Westminster’s own Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which established the current governance and management arrangements for schools, sets this out:
The curriculum satisfies this article if it promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural , intellectual and physical development of pupils at the school…In Northern Ireland, the vast majority of children attend denominational schools in which Catholic or Protestant church representatives play an important role in the management of the schools through positions on school Board of Governors—this is for historical reasons and stems from agreements entered into at the establishment of the state. Mr Wilson, quite rightly in my view, maintains that:
Sex and relationships education is not some mechanical thing.No indeed: it comes with values—values which appear to be omitted from the Government’s primary statements, in which the Department of Education states that RSE should be “age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate.” However, Mr Wilson goes onto report the views of the Roman Catholic Church:
In every major democratic jurisdiction, issues such as abortion, gender bioethics, human sexuality, are highly contested scientific and ethical issues, subject to democratic debate and shifting electoral and legislative positions.
Our politicians cannot use the UN as their alibiIt is important to note that the WHO’s guidance—which, judging by the overlap in terminology and format relative to Northern Ireland guidance, appears to be determining the direction of travel, through its publication entitled International technical guidance on sexuality education: An evidence-informed approach—actually specifically recognises the role of the churches, the role of parents and cultural differences. It states:
Faith-based organizations can provide guidance to programme developers and providers on how to approach religious leaders to begin a discussion about sexual health and sexuality education. Acting as models, mentors and advocates, religious leaders are ambassadors for faith communities that value young people’s well-being. Young people seek moral guidance that is relevant to their lives. (p. 85)Furthermore, in its FAQ section, the question in point 10 reads “How do the Standards address sexuality in its cultural context?” The answer given is:
Sexuality education takes place in diverse social and cultural settings. It is important that sexuality education should correspond to the reality of young people’s lives. This diversity requires sensitivity to social and cultural norms. A “one-size-fits-all” approach to sexuality education would hence not be feasible.Additionally, the Westminster Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does concede that (and it is very important to emphasise that this is included in the parliamentary record in Hansard) “it is at the school’s discretion to implement the contents of the curriculum according to its values and ethos” (emphasis added). So, too, does the NIHRC report to which he refers: it states that “decisions about whether and how to make provision falls to individual schools”. So it is quite clear that Ulster schools have the right to make the decisions with respect to curriculum provision. It appears though, that when they do, it is not good enough. Furthermore, it seems that the UK state and unelected international organisations—and those closer to home basing their report on those international organisations—are appointing themselves the arbiter of morality. In addition, these organisations, and not the parent, are deciding when is age-appropriate and what is age-appropriate. Once again, we seem to be driven by the ideologies of international unelected organisations, since much of the wording used is a direct lift from the terminology used in these international publications. For example, the Secretary of State, in announcing the policy, states:
This statutory instrument has the following effects. It amends the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and the Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007 to make age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights a compulsory component of the curriculum for adolescents.The WHO guidelines, in its publication International technical guidance on sexuality education: An evidence-informed approach, phrase the issue as follows:
Evidence illustrates that children and young people benefit from receiving appropriate information that is scientifically accurate, non-judgmental and age- and developmentally appropriate. (p. 84)
How did we get here?In 2019, the British Government made a legally-binding pledge to enforce the recommendations made by a UN committee which found Northern Ireland in breach of the 1981 convention and demanded that Northern Ireland needs “age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights [as] a compulsory component of curriculum for adolescents.” In June this year, it announced it would make good on this pledge by the end of the 2023. The outworking of this is that the Department of Education in Belfast asked the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) in Northern Ireland to draw up guidelines, and these guidelines heavily reference two WHO documents: the WHO Standards for Sexuality education in Europe and the International technical guidance on sexuality education: An evidence-informed approach. Before examining what the authorities are saying and advising (which will be discussed in Part 6 of this series), it is necessary to briefly look at what these two documents state since many countries are following these guidelines. In Northern Ireland, such was the furore that our provincial Department of Education issued a letter to all school principals stating that the legislation does not apply to Primary Schools. However, I will look at that claim in more detail in Part 6.
The WHO GuidanceUnder section 1.4, entitled How to read the matrix, the WHO Standards for Sexuality education in Europe state:
In the process of structuring the contents of what should be taught at a certain age, age groups have been defined according to developmental tasks. The age groups are 0–4, 4–6, 6–9, 9–2, 12–15, and 15 and up and have been chosen in accordance with WHO age groups and as they mirror development stages.In Section 5, the standards state that “sexuality education starts at birth” and “sexuality education should be delivered in an interactive way”. Further, in answer to the question “Why should sexuality education start before the age of four?”, we are told that “a child is understood to be a sexual being from the beginning.” The guidance given for ages 6–9 recommends a curriculum content which includes:
- Sexual intercourse, gender orientation, sexual behaviour of young people
- Enjoyment and pleasure when touching one’s own body (masturbation/self-stimulation, orgasm)
- Differences between gender identity and biological sex
- Gender identity and sexual orientation, including coming out and homosexuality
- How to enjoy sexuality in an appropriate way
- First sexual experience
- Pleasure, masturbation, orgasm
Q: What does it mean when you say that sexuality education should be started “from birth”? A: In the age group 0–4, the pedagogical aim that children should acquire an attitude of “respect for gender equality” means that they should learn that boys and girls are equal in terms of their rights as human beings. Q: According to some critics, the Standards promote “masturbation” and “playing doctors” in children from age 1 to 4 and encourages 6-year-old children to “explore same sex relationships”. Is this true? A: As mentioned, it is considered crucial that sexuality education is age-appropriate. Therefore, the Standards include information about the typical developmental stages of children. This information is addressed to professionals (e.g. teachers, including kindergarten teachers), who need to be informed about the variety of normal phenomena in the psychosexual development of children including, in fact, early childhood masturbation and “doctor” games.Another WHO document heavily referenced is the International technical guidance on sexuality education: An evidence-informed approach 2030 (also available here). This technical guidance also sets out learning objectives:
For 9–12 year olds Learners will be able to describe:Clearly, there is much in these guidelines that is directed at primary school children. As indicated earlier, last week the Department of Education in Northern Ireland took the unusual step of writing to all Principals specifically in an attempt to counter what it called ‘misinformation’. The letter insists:
For 5–8 year olds Learners will be able to:
- what sexually explicit media (pornography) and sexting are;
- male and female responses to sexual stimulation (knowledge); explain that many boys and girls begin to masturbate during puberty or sometimes earlier (knowledge); acknowledge that masturbation does not cause physical or emotional harm but should be done in private.
- ways that human beings feel pleasure from physical contact (e.g. kissing, touching, caressing, sexual contact).
- define gender and biological sex and describe how they are different
- reflect on how they feel about their biological sex and gender
- identify the critical parts of the internal and external, genitals and describe their basic function
- recognize that being curious about one’s body, including the genitals, is completely normal;
- practise asking and responding to questions about body parts that they are curious about.
The change to legislation brought in by the Secretary of State does not apply to primary schools.In Part 6 of this series, I will examine what the evidence suggests regarding the veracity of the statement above. That article will mainly focus on what our authorities are saying and advising. It will also include scientific evidence on the health effects of the proposed changes, a reflection on spiritual matters, and the consideration of parental rights. Main article image by Katherine Hanlon | Unsplash licence