Teachers call for right to boycott sex education

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The Independent Online

Teachers should be able to refuse to teach about sex, a teacher's union says today as the Government prepares to give legal backing to sex education guidelines.

Teachers should be able to refuse to teach about sex, a teacher's union says today as the Government prepares to give legal backing to sex education guidelines.

The 150,000-strong Association of Teachers and Lecturers says some of its members are uncomfortable holding sexeducation classes and new government guidelines emphasising the importance of marriage will make them even more so.

In response to a consultation on the sex education guidelines, the union argues that high standards of sex education will not be achieved if teachers are forced to teach the subject.

Six weeks ago, ministers put forward an amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill, which said that children would be required to "learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society". The amendment, which ministers hoped would defuse the controversy over Section 28, was defeated in the House of Lords. Peers added a clause putting more emphasis on marriage.

Peter Smith, the general secretary of the union, said his members opposed the plans to place a legal obligation on teachers to teach about sex in a particular way. "Just because teachers are teachers, nobody should assume that they are automatically enthusiastic or indeed comfortable about teaching sex education.

"What used to be regarded as traditional family values, the family norm, have actually become the exception rather than the rule. A lot of teachers would feel very uncomfortable about making the assumption that there is a norm. For a significant number of pupils sitting in front of them, that norm does not exist."

The union points to a survey that disclosed almost 90 per cent of teachers believed parents should take prime responsibility for the child's personal, social and health education. It says that the new guidelines tend "towards moralising, meddling and muddling ... teachers do not need to be spoon-fed by civil servants or politicians."

The draft guidance should be withdrawn and rewritten, the union says.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said the Government aimed to delete the peers' amendment when the Bill returned to the Commons. The wording of a new government amendment has not yet been decided.

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