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Relationships and Sex Education — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:14 pm on 25th February 2019.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 6:14 pm, 25th February 2019

No, I will not.

It is important that the state should not have a monopoly on such issues when it comes to the teaching of youngsters. I thought it significant that many Members who have talked about the importance of the regulations and expressed opposition to opt-outs are the very people who would, in many other instances, continually quote human rights obligations.

In a whole range of international rulings, including some by the European Court of Human Rights, and in international human rights law—I do not want to quote specific legislation or rulings—time and again the emphasis is that parents should ultimately have the right to know and decide what is taught to their youngsters, and should be able, where it is contrary to their beliefs, to exercise their right not to have their youngsters subjected to that kind of teaching. They should be the people who ultimately decide what values and beliefs are instilled in their children. It is significant that that aspect seems to have been missing from most of the speeches in this debate.

My final point is that the current rules either place a big burden on teachers or give far too many rights to headteachers. Nowhere are “exceptional circumstances” defined, so headteachers who particularly want their schools to push certain lifestyles in relationships education could refuse to allow parents to opt their children out. They may regard such parents as bigots, as people with funny views, as fundamentalists or as orthodox, which they do not like.

We have to remember that the secular trend in education can be quite aggressive at times: it gives headteachers who want to push an agenda a huge ability to say, “No, you cannot remove your children, whether you like it or not, because I want them to hear this.” On the other hand, the rules may place a burden on teachers and headteachers, because they will be left to make judgments without any specific guidelines or criteria. If headteachers are given no guidance, schools will inevitably make different decisions. I believe that that will put pressure on headteachers.

For all those reasons—individual freedom, the right for families to decide what they want their youngsters to be taught, and the ability for parents rather than teachers to make the final decision in the absence of clear guidelines—I believe that the only answer is to give parents the right to opt out in all circumstances where they decide, “This is not the kind of education that I want for my children.” I do not believe that children will be disadvantaged by that.

There are plenty of other, probably more effective ways for schools to deal with issues such as domestic violence or homophobic bullying. Having pastoral care, making sure that teachers know what is happening in the classroom and the playground—those are the ways to deal with it. I do not believe that the regulations will be a panacea or that they will deal with many of the issues that hon. Members have raised today.