Stephen Fry backs calls to review relationships and sex education | Education

Stephen Fry has backed calls urging the government to review its new compulsory programme of relationships and sex education (RSE), due to be rolled out to schools next year, suggesting that it does not go far enough.

The actor is one of a number of signatories to a letter addressed to the education secretary, Damian Hinds, which says that “political, religious and cultural sensitivities should not be allowed to thwart mandatory age-appropriate RSE in every school” from the first year of primary education.

The letter, which was organised by the Peter Tatchell Foundation for human rights, says it should be made more difficult for parents to opt to take their children out of RSE lessons; they should be required to attend school themselves to withdraw their children and return them in time for the next lesson.

“We don’t let parents take their kids out of mathematics or history classes so why should a parental opt-out be permitted for RSE? Removing pupils from such lessons jeopardises their emotional, sexual and physical health,” the letter states.

The signatories also say RSE lessons should be at least monthly throughout a child’s school life, rather than once a year or term, and that the lessons should be LGBT+ inclusive.

Tatchell, a human rights campaigner, said: “As well as warning pupils about the risks of sex, lessons should also inform older pupils about sexual pleasure and how to achieve it for both themselves and a partner, with the aim of helping them secure mutual sexual happiness.

“Schools should teach that heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are equally valid. Our goal is to ensure that pupils leave school emotionally and sexually literate and are able to enjoy fulfilling, caring and enduring relationships.”

RSE is already a contentious issue in some areas. A number of schools in Birmingham recently suspended the teaching of an LGBT+ inclusive programme named No Outsiders after protests from parents. Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service’s former lead on child sexual abuse, was drafted in to mediate in the dispute.

Last month Hinds intervened, warning that parents should not be given a veto over what schools could teach. He said it was right that parents were consulted and involved in developing how schools delivered relationships education, but added: “What is taught, and how, is ultimately a decision for the school.”

Under the RSE guidance parents will have the right to request their child be withdrawn from “some or all” of their sex education at secondary school, though the final decision lies with headteachers. Once children are three terms away from their 16th birthday they can choose to opt back into RSE so they are informed before they reach the age of consent.

At primary level, sex education is optional, so headteachers will automatically grant a parental request to withdraw a pupil. There is no right for parents to withdraw their children from the relationships or health education curriculum in primary.

Fry could not be reached for comment.

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