RECENTLY I attended an event in Glasgow titled Education not Indoctrination. It had been organised by Hands Up (Scotland), a group of parents, teachers and university lecturers concerned about the quality of education in Scottish schools. For me, as a former teacher, it was an eye-opener.
One of the issues discussed was the Scottish Government’s curriculum for sex education or, in ScotGov terminology, the Relationship, Sexual Health and Parenthood curriculum (RSHP).
After listening to some of the concerns expressed by parents, academics, paediatrics and education professionals, I decided to have a look for myself and browsed the extensive online RSHP resource platform: www.rshp.scot 33
The RSHP is structured along the Curriculum for Excellence and covers all age groups from nursery to S6 as well as teaching content for students with additional support needs. The syllabus for Second Level learners (S1-3, i.e. 12- to 14-year-olds) includes topic areas such as body image, stereotypes, sexual intercourse, consent, social media, pornography, LGB equality, gender, being a parent/carer, abuse, pregnancy, contraception, condoms, romance and loving relationships, sexual harrassment, menstruation, abortion, sexual rights, STIs and HIV. Second Level resources alone comprise 47 detailed lesson plans complete with downloadable Powerpoint slides and props – in English and Gaelic. Even the Baby Box gets its own lesson plan with a Youtube link to a promotion video (Part 3. Being a Parent – importance of play – the baby box (Activity plan) (rshp.scot) )
Busy parents can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed and unable to spare the time for drilling down to the detail of what’s being taught to their children. In particular, there is no comprehensive list of suggested video content, instead video links are embedded in the individual lesson plans. Hence it may escape some parents how, for example, the issue of being attracted to someone is approached with P5-7 pupils (i.e. 9- to 11-year-olds). Here the suggested video is a short animated film telling the story of two boys falling in love: In a Heartbeat – Animated Short Film on Vimeo (Note: The lesson plan does not offer a girl-boy alternative. Link to lesson plan: Part 2. Being attracted to someone (Activity plan) (rshp.scot) )
The same film is suggested for P2-4 students (6- to 8-year-olds) when the concepts of being heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual are introduced (Link to lesson plan: Part 5. Heterosexual_LGB (Activity plan) (rshp.scot) . It is proposed alongside a video titled “Kids of Gay Parents Speak Out”: (30) Kids Of Gay Parents Speak Out – (bi/straight parents too) A film from Team Angelica & Stonewall – YouTube
The theme of “you can be whatever you want” is carried through the curriculum. This is made clear in the lesson plan Being transgender for P5-7 kids. (Link to lesson plan: Part 3. Being transgender (Activity plan) (rshp.scot) ) Quote:
“This activity continues a narrative across the RSHP resource that encourages children to be whatever kind of girl or boy they want to be, free from stereotypes and gender-biased expectations.”
The emphasis here is on what children of primary school age want to be, not on experiencing over time who and what they are. The lesson plan provides a link to Sandyford Health Service in Glasgow which offers “Gender Services” to young people: Gender Service (sandyford.scot)
Parents also have to plough through individual lesson plans in order to discover that different sexual practices are a strand within the RSHP that runs throughout secondary education. During the first three years at secondary school, 12- to 14-year-olds will receive detailed explanation what sexual intercourse can involve. To quote one of the learning intentions: “Young people are given basic knowledge about having sex (intercourse) including mutual masturbation, penetrative vaginal sex, oral sex and anal sex.” (Link to lesson plan: Part 1. How people have sex – Having sex for the first time (Activity plan) April 2020 (rshp.scot) )
In the subsequent lesson they will be encouraged to make their own choices. (Link to lesson plan: Part 2. Making choices – Waiting for sex – Delay (Acitivity plan) (rshp.scot) ) The suggested video content is an animation from the American platform amaze.org of which the RSHP makes ample use: Are You Ready To Have Sex? – YouTube
Although the legal age of consent (age 16) is mentioned, both lessons might leave the impression that – for S1-S3 pupils – having sex with a partner can just as well be for the here and now rather than for some time in the future.
The subject is picked up again at Senior Level, i.e. the last three years of secondary education. Anal/oral sex are framed as normal. To quote from the relevant lesson plan:
– Young people are reminded that a range of sexual behaviours, and not just penetrative penis/vagina sex, are considered as sex.”
– I can describe the range of sexual behaviours that are considered ‘sex’.
– I understand the social taboos about some sexual practices, but I know that accurate information, support or help is available when I need it.”
According to the RSHP, this is in line with the law:
“The law says sexual activity includes mutual masturbation, oral sex or penetrative sex. Penetrative sex is when a person puts their finger or penis or something else (like a sex toy/dildo) into a person’s vagina or anus (anal sex).”
There is, however, no source or reference to where the relevant legal text can be found. (Link to lesson plan: Sex – Masturbation – Oral – Anal sex (Activity plan) (rshp.scot) )
Teachers are encouraged to impart explicit information on the various practices. I would like to invite parents to look at the following Powerpoint slides to make up their own minds: https://rshp.scot/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Sex-Masturbation-Oral-Anal-Slides.pptx
In case some parents have concerns about the age appropriateness of some of the content, the website provides a link to the RSHP Vimeo channel. It offers short clips featuring health and education professionals sharing their views and reassure the viewer that all teaching materials and content are appropriate to the age and developmental stage of the students. As an ex-teacher, who has worked with children for many years, I would be interested in the child development expertise on which this claim is based. Unfortunately, this information is missing.
What the RSHP is doing well is, for example, delivering biological knowledge around human reproduction, nurturing basic skills relating to parenthood or encouraging the ability to build and maintain positive relationships.
Same-sex families will be especially reassured that tolerance and respect for their way of life is an in-built, continuous strand within the syllabus. Gender-related terminology is introduced at an early stage and the understanding of what transgender, gender-fluid, non-binary, gay, lesbian, bisexual or cis-gender means is continually built up throughout the curriculum. Diversity is key and the traditional family unit is merely a footnote.
While neutral terms like family and parents/carers are frequently used, I didn’t come across the words mother, father, brother, son, daughter, sister, brother, husband, wife. Should parents look for additional lesson plans or teaching materials that would reflect the spirit of bringing their kids up as a traditional family, they will be disappointed. The RSHP doesn’t provide for that. Marriage is merely mentioned as one formal way of expressing commitment to a partner. In Powerpoint illustrations man-woman couples feature far and few between. In some slides photos of same-sex couples are the first and sometimes the only images students get to see. (Example: https://rshp.scot/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Romantic-and-Loving-relationships-Part-2.-Living-together-Slides-June-2020.pptx)
While some parents might welcome the RSHP in its present form, others might feel uncomfortable. Some might even feel that their children are encouraged to assume attitudes which are out of kilter with their own values and separate them from their family.
My impression is the Scottish Government has commissioned a curriculum that expects teachers to tell kids what to think and not to teach them how to think. Parents, lauded repeatedly in the RSHP as “first educator of their children”, are nevertheless expected to cooperate. If they are uncomfortable with the content, they can withdraw their child from the lessons. Take it or leave it (and be a bigot)?
The implementation of the RSHP is not mandatory. It’s up to schools whether to use it and how. At the Education not Indoctrination conference one ex-headteacher described her approach: “I found the folders on my desk and put them straight in the bin. I was due to retire anyway.”
I appeal to all Mums and Dads out there: Please have a good look at www.rshp.scot – I’ve provided the relevant links where I could – and make up your own minds!
Photo from the RSHP suite of images