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ROW OVER INCLUSIVE EDUCATION CONTENT IN WESTERN ISLES SCHOOLS

‘Grave concerns’ have been raised over the content of sex education in schools in the Hebrides, with local church leaders apparently opposed to the use of national resources published by RSHP.scot.

Lewis Presbytery say the materials will “confuse and prematurely sexualise young minds” and lead to pupils being removed from relationship, sexual health and parenting (RSHP) lessons.

The issue was raised at a Special Meeting of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar on 30th November, where the Council’s updated Guidance for Schools was presented for approval. In confusing scenes which the Convener later apologised for, councillors debated the Guidance with some keen on a more conservative approach than the national RSHP resources.

Concerns were also raised that the ‘liberty of teachers to use alternatives’ would be at risk if legislation had to be used to implement the recommendations of the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group. Scotland is the first country in the world to support the introduction of LGBT+ inclusive education

While acknowledging that the removal of homophobic and transphobic bullying is “an aspiration the presbytery supports”, the church had also argued that there was a “very real danger … of heterophobic and faithophobic bullying against those unable to embrace an ideology that goes against their conscience, morality and/or faith position”.

Councillors eventually voted for an amendment by 23 votes to 4 which would see a version of the RSHP materials based on the Scottish Catholic Education Service model.

The final decision on which materials are used will be down to headteachers themselves, with the Comhairle reminding schools they are to include the views from Parent Councils, as well as the young people, when selecting resources for lessons.

A petition has now been launched by Young Humanists Scotland, calling on all councils in Scotland to ensure fully inclusive sex education in all schools.

Co-ordinator, Jake Stevenson, said:

“It is really disappointing to read that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have voted to restrict the education of young people in the Western Isles by rejecting LGBTQ+ inclusive education. All young people in Scotland, especially young LGBTQ+, should have access to RSHP in schools as it gives them vital knowledge to live happier and healthier lives. This needs to change. If any progress is to be made, the restrictions on RSHP have to go.”

The organisation has written to The Scottish Government and the Comhairle to raise their concerns, with Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland adding,

“Humanist Society Scotland have long been champions of the Scottish Government’s work to better respect children and young people’s rights. I am concerned that this recent decision places religious belief above every young Scot’s right to receive facts-based and inclusive sex and relationship education.”

Deflecting criticism, the Comhairle have said that they cannot dictate what material can be used in RSHP, and that the amendment agreed by Council supports schools to select resources. The accepted motion amendment reads:

“That the Comhairle commends the use of the age and stage appropriate material as set out in the Scottish Catholic Education Services for the teaching of religious, sexual health and parenthood in Western Isles schools, noting that schools may adjust these materials as appropriate.”

Opponents had previously described plans for a Pride march in the Hebrides as “sad, shameful and nothing to be proud about.”

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