Students as young as five will receive lessons about LGBT relationships and gender reassignment — and head teachers can “overrule” parents who want to opt their children out of sex education classes, according to a new guidance issued by the U.K. Department of Education.
The guidance also tells teachers to encourage students to question their religious beliefs about homosexuality.
The new guidelines, published Monday, say that primary and secondary students should understand “that some people are LGBT, that this should be respected in British society and that the law affords them and their relationships recognition and protections,” the Sunday Times reports.
“Pupils growing up in families with LGBT members, or who are beginning to understand that they are or may be LGBT themselves, should feel that relationships education and RSE [relationships and sex education] is relevant to them,” it said.
Head teachers will be ordered to implement the new sex education classes when they are rolled out nationally next year, but have been given discretion over timing “based on the age and development of their pupils.”
Parents may opt out of any sex education element of relationships education in primary school; in secondary school, they may only withdraw their children from lessons until the age of 15.
However, at that stage, a student can request to have lessons alongside their classmates regardless of their parents’ views — and in “exceptional circumstances,” head teachers can overrule parents.
Teachers are also expected to talk to parents who wish to exclude their child from these lessons, "discussing with the parents the benefits of receiving this important education and any detrimental effects that withdrawal might have on the child,” reports the BBC.
According to the new guidelines, children aged nine to 10 “want to talk about” topics including masturbation, and “about how people can get diseases including HIV, from sex and how they can be prevented.”
Questions to ask this age group include: “Can people of the same sex love one another? Is this ok? What are the different kinds of families and partnerships? What do the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ mean?”
Questions to ask children aged 11 to 13 include, “What is the difference between transvestite and trans-sexual?” and, “My religion says that being gay or having sex before marriage is wrong, what should I think?”
At 16, pupils should be taught “how to disclose positive HIV status to a sexual partner, family and friends," the guidelines state.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said the new curriculum is “sensitive and inclusive” and appropriate to pupils’ age, but children needed to be helped to “come to terms with the world around them.”
“Although sex education is only mandatory to teach at secondary, it must be grounded in a firm understanding and valuing of positive relationships and respect for others from primary age,” he said in a Commons statement.
The new lessons will also cover pregnancy, sexual consent, “honor-based” abuse, female genital mutilation, grooming, forced marriage, and domestic abuse.
The move has seen opposition from conservative Christian, Jewish, and Muslim parents, who say the new guidelines undermine their religious beliefs. In a statement, Colin Hart, chairman of the Coalition for Marriage, called the lessons “completely unacceptable.”
“No one objects to the Government trying to make children safer online by teaching them about internet trolls and about the dangers of social media, however, the plan to downgrade marriage – and sideline parents whilst doing it – is completely unacceptable,” he said.
“The Department for Education is sidelining traditional marriage, the most stable form of relationship for raising children and forcing them to learn about every other form of relationship under the sun, even when it is not age-appropriate. The law should encourage traditional marriage, not undermine it.”
Hart said the new guidelines evidence that the Department for Education believes that traditional marriage no longer matters and marginalizes those who do not support political correctness for religious reasons.
“But even those keen to promote other forms of family life have been unable to deny that evidence shows that children do best when they are raised by their mother and father,” he said.
“It also ignores that marriage, the life long union between one man and one woman, despite all the rhetoric and spin is the most stable form of relationship. This is why rather than downgrading marriage we should be doing more to celebrate its many societal and personal benefits.”
Meanwhile, a petition requesting parents be allowed to opt their children out of the lessons has received over 107,000 signatures.
“We have grave concerns about the physical, psychological and spiritual implications of teaching children about certain sexual and relational concepts proposed in RSE and believe that they have no place within a mandatory school curriculum,” Dr. Katherine Sarah Godfrey-Faussett, the petitioner, stated.
“We believe the above factors have not been given enough consideration and that many of the RSE resources being produced by lobby groups and external organizations will actually cause more harm than good, particularly when child development and psychological factors are considered.”