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Children should learn about sex, says Orthodox group

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance believes some elements of sex education should be compulsory

    Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Romeo + Juliet (Getty)
    Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Romeo + Juliet (Getty)

    An Orthodox women’s group wants to restrict the right of parents to withdraw  children from sex education in school.

    The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Association UK says a child’s access to accurate information on sex and relationships should not be determined by their religious background.

    The group was responding to a consultation by the Department for Education on new guidelines for extending sex and relationships education in state schools.

    On Sunday Damian Hinds, the recently appointed Education Secretary, reiterated the right of parents to take children out of SRE — although not from lessons on reproduction in science.

    But Jofa UK says that while there should be some flexibility depending on  schools’ cultural needs, this should not allow them to omit “whole subjects that are slightly less comfortable to conservative faith communities”.

    While secondary schools under local authority control must already offer SRE, the government wants to extend it to academies and free schools as well as primary schools.

    Under legislation passed last year, this should be “appropriate” to the age and religious background of pupils. The law says the education authorities should produce further regulations on when pupils may be “excused” from receiving SRE.

    Jofa UK argues that SRE should be split into two parts with “no ability to opt out” of a core curriculum that would teach all children, by GCSE age, “key concepts such as consent, mechanics of sex, contraception, healthy relationships”.

    Religiously conservative schools “should not be able to ignore this education by saying it is not relevant to them”.

    The right of withdrawal would remain for non-core parts of the SRE curriculum.

    While it would be valid for a school to teach its preference for pre-marital abstinence from sex, “that should not give faith schools the ability to opt out of teaching the mechanics of sex and about safe sex,” Jofa UK says. 

    Its response to the Department for Education also says while education about diversity should not be about promoting alternative lifestyles, “all children should be taught about different kinds of family, ensuring children’s own home circumstances are not stigmatised or ignored”.

    Education must be “equally inclusive of and relevant to all children, irrespective of their own sexuality or gender identity,” it says.

    The group also warns against “damaging gender stereotyping”, saying teachers should be trained not to transmit subconscious prejudices to children. 

    “Despite recent advances many girls are growing up in patriarchal communities where their social, education and career opportunities are limited by their gender,” it states.

    A more conservative view was expressed by the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (Najos), which emphasised the sanctity of marriage in guidance to members on how to respond to  the consultation.

    It advised them to make clear that while they supported “a sound relationships programme, this will not include familial structures which contradict our teaching”.

    According to the Torah view, Najos advised, “there is no age-appropriate way to teach primary or secondary school children about same-s[ex] marriage or transgenderism.  We should be teaching young children broad values of respect and tolerance, not ordering them to accept adult relationships which they are far too young to understand. 

    “Nor should schools be encouraging young children to question their biological gender.”

    The Board of Deputies in its response to the DfE stressed schools should be able to “retain their faith and cultural identity” in this area.

    It highlighted the importance of strong family relationships including traditional marriage as well as supporting children who do not have two parents at home.

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