NSS raises concerns over RSE review panel members

Posted: Wed, 7th Jun 2023

NSS raises concerns over RSE review panel members

The National Secular Society has raised concerns over the religious connections of individuals appointed to review relationship and sex education.

One member is a former director of a Christian charity that opposes LGBT rights and access to abortion. Another oversees an academy trust where relationship and sex education (RSE) is taught in line with Islamic religious beliefs.

RSE review

In March, the government announced it would review the RSE curriculum in schools. The announcement followed allegations, spearheaded by Miriam Cates MP, that children were being exposed to sexually inappropriate content in RSE lessons. The National Association of Head Teachers has suggested the review may be "politically motivated".

The review is being carried out by the Department for Education and is to be guided by a five-strong "expert panel".

Alasdair Henderson

One panellist, barrister Alasdair Henderson (pictured, left), was a director of the charity the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship (LCF) from 2016 to 2021.

In a policy paper entitled 'Marriage and the Public Good', the LCF rejects gay sex because "God has designed intercourse as a meaningful act of communication because its purpose is to join a husband and wife together for life".

It also suggests that children brought up in heterosexual marriages "live according to higher standards of integrity and moral principles".

An academic paper hosted on the LCF website compares opposing same-sex marriage to opposing incestuous marriage between close relatives. It adds that allowing same-sex marriage "will undermine the 'moral weight of marriage'".

A lecture hosted on the LCF website refers to abortion law in the UK as "unjust". In 2018, Mr Henderson represented a Christian client who opposed a buffer zone around an abortion clinic in London.

In 2006, the LCF opposed government efforts to introduce legislation that would ensure LGBT people could not be denied services on the basis of their sexuality. The LCF urged Christians to write to their MPs to ask for a religious exemption to the legislation.

The LCF's former public policy officer was Andrea Williams, who is now Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern. In a Channel 4 documentary, while still at LCF, Ms Williams describes abortion in the UK as a "silent holocaust" that is the work of "Satan".

Hamid Patel

Another panellist is Hamid Patel (pictured, right), chief executive of the Star Academies trust and a board member of Ofsted.

Star Academies, formerly known as Tauheedul Education Trust, operates 31 schools. Most of these are Islamic faith schools.

The Star Academies uniform policy for girls' faith schools says hijab (a headscarf) "is part of the Uniform", although pupils may opt out of wearing it due to "individual values or cultural or faith sensitivities". The hijab is mandated in some Islamic countries, such as Iran, to impose Islamic modesty codes on women.

The trust also states that its schools with an Islamic faith designation will "teach the distinctive faith perspective on relationships and sex education alongside the teaching of each topic or theme".

A 2018 National Secular Society report, Unsafe Sex Education, found many faith schools teach that homosexual acts are wrong and that homosexuality itself is "disordered".

Mainstream Islam usually rejects same-sex relationships and sex outside of marriage.

NSS: Appointments 'cast doubt on government's commitment to provide objective RSE'

NSS campaigns officer Alejandro Sanchez said: "It is already the case that state-funded faith schools are allowed to promulgate regressive religious views on homosexuality, women and reproductive rights in RSE.

"The RSE review was an opportunity for the government to rectify this. Instead, they have appointed two panel members with ties to religious organisations that appear to espouse those self-same views.

"This is extremely disappointing and casts doubts on the government's commitment to providing children with objective, scientific, evidence-based RSE rather than one inspired by harmful religious dogma."

Tags: Faith schools, LGBT, Reproductive rights