Relationships and sex education

Is ‘inappropriate’ sex education ‘widespread’? Keegan doesn’t know

Education secretary also uses claim about '72 genders' thought to originate from a school outside England

Education secretary also uses claim about '72 genders' thought to originate from a school outside England

The education secretary has admitted she does not know how “widespread” the use of “inappropriate” relationships and sex education resources is in schools.

Gillian Keegan also repeatedly used a claim about children being taught there are 72 genders to back up her reforms that appears to relate to a school that is not in England.

This week the government published its long-awaited proposals to reform how relationships, sex and health education is taught in schools.

They plan to introduce age limits to some “sensitive content”, and ban schools from teaching about gender identity (see full round up below).

The proposals have prompted warnings that schools will be unable to provide the “preventative education” needed to safeguard children.

Questions over ’72 genders’ claim

Keegan was repeatedly pressed during broadcast interviews on Thursday on the evidence backing up her claim that some schools are teaching inappropriate content.

She referred to pupils being taught that gender is a “spectrum” or “fluid”, and the idea “you can have different genders on different days or…there’s 72 of them”.

The reference to 72 genders is understood to relate to a news story that emerged last year about school on the Isle of Man, which is not in England, and to which the new guidance will not apply.

She repeated the claim on GB News, and in an article for the Sun newspaper.

Asked whether these were examples of content actually taught in the classroom, she said: “We’ve received evidence with those slides to say that they’ve been taught in classrooms.”

But she said: “I don’t think it’s widespread. I mean, I don’t know. Because, you know, it’s not something that we’ve gone and done a particular survey of.”

DfE will publish evaluation report

The government has also been criticised for failing to consult with school leaders before releasing the draft guidance.

In its consultation, the DfE said “over 50 organisations, including teaching unions, faith groups, parent groups, academics and RSHE providers, have contributed their expertise” to the review.

They also drew on findings from a national evaluation of RSHE teaching in schools, to be published later this year. Insights also came from the independent expert panel, appointed by Keegan.

Jonathan Baggaley, chief executive of the PSHE Association, warned age restrictions “could restrict teachers’ ability to respond to the learning needs of the children in front of them. Preventative education must occur before risks are encountered.”

‘False premise of activist teachers’

He said the new guidance was “also based on a false premise of ‘activist teachers’ and claims of widespread use of problematic materials and poor practice – a picture neither we nor the unions recognise, and between us we work with every school in the country”.

Julie McCulloch
Julie McCulloch

“There seems to be too much credence given to fringe views and contested reports, designed to stoke division.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said yesterday he would “look at whether” what’s mentioned in the guidance is “far removed from what’s happening” in schools.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the ASCL leaders’ union, welcomed the guidance but said it was “disappointing that the review has been framed by some politicians in a way that suggests there is a widespread problem with the teaching of sex education”.

“Our focus will be on ensuring the guidance is sensible and deliverable, and that school leaders are able to retain sufficient flexibility to discuss issues as they arise and respond to the needs of their individual contexts.”

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