Parents blocked from seeing sex education material taught in schools which 'denies biological sex'

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven called for parents to be given a legl right to review curriculum materials

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Parents are being deliberately blocked from seeing sex education material being taught to their children which appears to deny the reality of biological sex, Parliament has been told.

Some providers are “actively seeking” to prevent access to teaching resources by citing commercial confidentiality, according to former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald of River Glaven.

To tackle this “obfuscation”, the independent crossbencher is among a number of peers backing a proposed change to the law that will give parents a legal right to review curriculum materials.

He made his comments as the House of Lords continued its detailed scrutiny of the Schools Bill.

Lord Macdonald told the upper chamber that the Government had updated in 2019 the relationships and sex education (RSE) guidance.

Lord Macdonald has called for parents to have access to all curriculum material
Lord Macdonald has called for parents to have access to all curriculum material

He said: “The guidance was clear that content should be age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate and – I underline the next words – anchored in science and material facts.

“It seems that a significant number of independent so-called RSE providers have created materials that promote to schoolchildren, including quite young children, the idea that biological sex is a spectrum, that we all have an inner gender identity that should take priority over biological sex and that our assumed genders are assigned to us at birth.

“One may agree or disagree with those propositions, and one may agree or disagree with them being put forward as scientifically based fact, but it is also clear that the 2019 guidance made paramount that parents should have visibility of what is being taught to their children.”

He added: “There is clear evidence that the 2019 RSE guidance has resulted in some schools using ideologically driven materials not grounded in science, in my view, with children, including some very young children.

“This has particularly been so in the field of gender ideology, where some materials appear to deny the reality of biological sex. These teachings have consequences, not least for women’s sex-based rights.”

File photo dated of a school teacher looking stressed next to piles of classroom books
File photo dated of a school teacher looking stressed next to piles of classroom books

While the 2019 guidance aimed to enable parents to engage with materials used in their children’s education, Lord Macdonald said: “However, it has become apparent that some external resource providers, including some with a notoriously fixed and driven view of these matters, are actively seeking to prevent parents seeing the materials being used, including by using arguments based on commercial confidentiality.”

Supporting an amendment to the Schools Bill, he said: “Its purpose is to counter what I describe as this obfuscation by enshrining in law a parental right to review curriculum materials that is presently merely alluded to in guidance.”

The law change had been proposed by Labour former education secretary Baroness Morris of Yardley, who highlighted the case of a parent who had been prevented from seeing RSE materials being used as the outside organisation providing that part of the curriculum said it was exempt on commercial grounds.

Lady Morris said: “This particular bit of curriculum material was, I think, very contestable in terms of appropriateness for age.

“However, even if I thought it the best bit of teacher material I had ever seen, I would say it could not be right that a parent could not have access to it and see it.”

Referring to the gender issue, Labour peer Lord Triesman said: “It does appear to me that with schools a number of organisations have unwisely been allowed to capture the agenda… and the point is repeated ad nauseam about what it is you have to believe.”

He added: “I do not like people being designated as the champion of things whose orthodoxy in those respects has to be adhered to. That is no basis for any kind of education.”

Tory peer Baroness Stroud said: “These third party organisations have been commissioned to provide a service, not to teach secret material.”

Former Brexit Party MEP Baroness Fox said: “I think the excuse might be that it’s commercially sensitive, but actually I think often what’s going on here is that things are politically sensitive.

“These aren’t benign ideas, let alone facts. They are often divisive and totally at odds with parents’ values, and certainly fall short of statutory requirements for teacher impartiality.”

Conservative peer Lord Sandhurst, a retired QC and former chairman of the Bar Council, said: “The material has been relied on and shown to children in class. What good reason is there for parents not to be able to inspect that material within the school?”

Offering to meet concerned peers, education minister Baroness Barran said: “We would like to be confident that the law is being interpreted correctly.”