By Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham
IN SUPPORTING the need for appropriate sex and relationship education in schools, I wish to draw attention both to the strengths and weaknesses of the guidance now given by the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE).
The Catholic Education Service, along with many other bodies, was asked by the MEE to comment on a draft version of this guidance. Some of the key comments of the CES were not incorporated into the final version. These comments would have addressed some of the weaknesses I perceive in the current document [....) I regret that an adequate distinction is not made between marriage and "stable relationships" as "key building blocks of community and society". believe that such a distinction is essential for the present and long-term health of our society. Marriage should be recognised as the firm basis of family life and should he supported as such. I am convinced that this can be done sensitively in the classroom, without stigmatising children whose family circumstances are different.
The guidance proposes sex and relationship education as a major contribution to the moral development of young people. Indeed, it details some of the "attitudes and values" that can contribute towards this development. For example, respect for others and awareness of the consequences of actions taken
are given prominence. This is to be welcomed. Yet in the document there is no guidance concerning the moral principles that shape and guide a true understanding of the nature and purpose of human sexuality. This is illustrated in the sections referring to the real and pressing problem of teenage pregnancies. The sole responses to this problem are the wider availability of contraceptives and "information and advice on delaying sexual activity", when what is required is a more principled approach to sexual behaviour. In these and other ways, the document indicates clearly that England and Wales are seen by government to be thoroughly secularised societies. Consequently, no firm moral basis for the specifically sexual behaviour of young people is put forward. In the terms offered by this guidance, there is no ideal to be held before young people in school. In this, our society is failing them. In Catholic schools, sex and relationship education will continue to be based on the teaching of the Church. All the issues addressed in the guidance will be covered, studied and discussed, always in the context of the truth about human life disclosed to us in Christ, and the invitation of faith to strive to Iive and act according to that truth.
Archbishop Nichols is Chairman of the bishops' Department for Education and Formation.