The Scottish Government has removed all reference to Catholic schools in a draft document that will be used in sex and reationships education in classrooms. 

Now Catholics are being urged to respond to a consultation to ensure their voice is heard. Respond to the consulation here (or see guidance at bottom of this article).

The guidance has created concern among denominational schools that it will undermine their ethos and autonomy despite the guidance itself stating that Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education has a central role in promoting the ethos of the school, writes The Catholic Herald.

The new guidance, which is issued under section 56 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000, is designed to replace earlier guidance issued in 2014. A public consultation on the draft is due to end on 23 November 2023. See end of this article on how to respond.

Of particular concern is the removal of paragraphs 38-41 under the sub-heading “Denominational Education” which explicitly protects the rights of Catholic schools to provide sex education in line with the Catholic ethos.

Bishops' response

This omission resulted in a strong rebuke from the Scottish Bishops:

“The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland is both disappointed and confused at the decision by the Scottish Government to delete all reference to Catholic schools in its ‘Guidance on the Delivery of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) Education in Scottish Schools’ document. 

“We strongly request the re-insertion of the paragraphs relating to Denominational Education from the previous iteration of the guidance, which would reflect both the legal protection for schools with a Religious Character, and the previously supportive position of Scottish Government for Catholic schools.”

The paragraphs that are no longer reflected in the updated draft guidance are as follows:

38. In Scotland, provision is made for some publicly funded schools that are denominational in character. The majority of these schools are Roman Catholic and they are an integral part of the public education system. Denominational schools play an important part in Scottish education. The Scottish Government values this provision and is committed to maintaining it. 

39. The Scottish Government supports the right of the Roman Catholic Church to give witness to its faith, and to uphold the traditions of Catholic education. We value the contribution made by Catholic schools, and have no intention of changing the current position where faith aspects of the curriculum in Catholic schools are determined by the Scottish Catholic Education Service acting on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. These faith aspects relate to religious education and religious observance. 

40. In February 2011, the Scottish Government issued advice to local authorities and head teachers reiterating that the experiences and outcome for Religious Education in Roman Catholic schools should be delivered in conjunction with guidance provided by the Scottish Catholic Education Service. We have no plans to change this advice. 

41. National guidance on the curriculum is always developed on the basis of wide consultation. It is recognised that religious authorities with a role in denominational education provide guidance on RSHP education for their denominational schools and that right will continue as at present. This national guidance should be seen to be complementary to the guidance provided by the religious authority while at the same time serving as a useful basis for everyone.

The removal of these “protections” in the draft guidance creates an understandable worry among Catholics that their schools will be required to provide and promote a secularised approach to relationship and sexuality education.  

The draft new guidelines omit any reference to the existence of denominational schools, instead replacing these protections with a section on “faith and beliefs” which, rather than protecting the schools ethos, essentially places the different diverse faiths and beliefs of learners ahead of the denominational ethos of the schools:

3.8. Educational practitioners should ensure learning and teaching is planned and delivered sensitively, being respectful of the various belief and faith backgrounds present in their learning community. Knowledge and understanding about the traditions, beliefs and practices of different religions, faiths and belief groups supports children and young people to develop respect and understanding. To facilitate this, themes can be devised so individuals can interact and learn alongside those who may have different beliefs and values to them, leading potentially to increased understanding. 

3.9. Schools have a key role to play in providing an educational experience that is inclusive for all, regardless of the beliefs and values they hold. With inclusive RSHP education, children and young people, where religion and/or belief plays a role in their identities, should be able to feel included and accepted within their school and community. When children and young people can see themselves represented in what they learn, it helps them feel like they belong and that their identity is valued. This helps them to better engage with education. It also supports all children and young people to understand equalities and rights, and to recognise the impact of prejudice and stereotypes. 

This places denominational schools, where parents may have chosen on the basis of the particular ethos, in a position where they are required to abandon this ethos and become, de facto, state schools.

Additional concerns have been raised regarding the introduction of the “whole of school” approach to RSHP, which requires the ideas around LGBT inclusion be incorporated across the school curriculum, utilising academic learning to inculcate a particular ethos that is at odds with the ethos of the schools’ governing bodies.

Specifically, the guidance states:

“To enable LGBT Inclusive Education across the curriculum, there should be an emphasis on the importance of inter-disciplinary learning including but not exclusively through Expressive Arts, Languages, Literacy, Health and Well Being, Numeracy, Religious and Moral Education, Sciences and Social Studies.”

The Guidelines admit explicitly that the recommendations from the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group’s report to the Scottish Ministers have been included in the draft guidance, focusing on contested areas such as terminologies (including gender identity), histories of the social rights movement, as well as the “quality of people, families and relationships”. Catholic teaching related to the primacy of the family unit, of marriage being between a man and woman, as well as the social reality that children fare better, on average, in these stable units, will struggle to find its space in such an ideologically confined space.

Further concerns exist in relation to the expectations of RSHP education, where the guidelines insert the objectives – and pressure – on teachers and learners, to contribute to reducing gender-based violence and domestic abuse while also encouraging children to reflect on the gender stereotypes that they hold as well as their unconscious biases. The former creates an unrealistic expectation on the role of schools and educators while that latter incorporates faddish ideas that are neither bounded by evidence and increasingly questioned in terms of effectiveness in addressing any practical or structural issues.

The preponderant focus on issues such as gender, gender identity, LGBT, variations in sex characteristics across the guidance, occupying half the content of the guidance, with the absence of anything that reflects a Catholic approach to relationships, sexuality and nothing about parenthood, validates the concerns that are being raised by Catholic schools and parents.

While the Scottish government claims that it has consulted with over 30 groups, including the Scottish Catholic Education Service and representatives of other major faith groups, the Herald Scotland reports that the Church described Government claims that the Scottish Catholic Education Service had been consulted as “disingenuous”. It reports a Church source stating: “A proper consultation is where the views of a participant or stakeholder are taken on board. Ours were wilfully ignored. It is striking that the term Catholic School is not used within this document and the phrase ‘denominational schools’ only once.”

The above article is from the The Catholic Herald.

How to respond

You can read the revised document here.

To respond online

  • Follow this link and complete the consultation online using the skeleton responses in this Word document.
  • You can cut and paste these, changing any of the content to best suit your individual response.
  • Note you do not need to answer every question.  However, Questions 1 and 6 are vital.
  • You must complete the RESPONDENT INFORMATION FORM.

To respond by post

  • Open letter template here.
  • Change any content by typing on the document – including your name and address.
  • You do not need to answer every question.  However, Questions 1 and 6 are vital.
  • Print your final document.
  • You MUST print and complete the RESPONDENT INFORMATION FORM on the first page and include this with any posted responses.
  • Post responses to: RSHP Teaching Guidance Consultation, Area 2B North, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, EH6 6QQ.

Posted responses must reach Scottish Government by 23 November (so post by Monday 20 November).