Faith schools must teach sex and contraception

State-aided religious schools will have to teach about contraception and ceremonies for gay couples in future, according to new rules being introduced by the government.

Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, stressed that faith schools would not be able to opt out of new requirements for sex education, due to come into force next year.

In a letter published in several newspapers, he explained: "This includes education about contraception and the importance of stable relationships, including marriage and civil partnerships [for gay couples]. It will not allow the teaching of homophobia."

While faith schools will remain free to teach the subject according to the values of their own faith, he said, "what they cannot do is to suggest that their views are the only ones".

A spokeswoman for the Board of Deputies said that state-aided Jewish schools would be required to teach "all elements" of the proposed Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum including Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) components.

"They will be free to teach PSHE in a manner which reflects the ethos and religious character of their school," she said.

"Parents also have the right to withdraw their child from all aspects of SRE until the age of 15, aside from that which is taught in biology."

However, the Board spokeswoman explained that the government has yet to finalise detailed guidelines on SRE, pending a public consultation which ends on April 19.

"As such, the Board will continue to consult all strands of our community, making the necessary representations to government according to a wide spectrum of religious concerns, and underscoring that delivery of SRE cannot assume 'a one size fits all' approach," she said.

"We are impressing on DCSF officials that if they want this initiative to work, implementation has to be sensitive and appropriate to the schools, the pupils and their lifestyles, which may be very different to the average mainstream comprehensive."

One argument being put by the Board is to change the name of SRE.

"We know that many organisations are in agreement with us in our concern that the title 'Sex and Relationships Education' does not adequately focus on the fundamental importance of family and relationships with regards to these issues," she said.

"Even a minor rearrangement of words to 'Relationships and Sex Education' shifts the focus of the subject."

    Last updated: 4:24pm, February 25 2010