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Textbooks (Parental Vetting)

Volume 22: debated on Tuesday 20 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to give parents the right to vet textbooks used in schools for the teaching of sensitive matters, such as sex education.

The Education (School Information) Regulations, which come into effect this year, will require schools to give parents information about the way in which sex education is provided in schools. We have made it clear that there should be the closest consultation and cooperation between parents and schools on this matter

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a vital moral issue in the presentation of literature within schools, and will he assure the House that he will exercise vigilance in such matters, especially about sex education? Does he agree that his Department has a moral responsibility for curricula in schools?

I believe that the Department has a moral responsibility. Last year, through pressure, we ruled that some books that were available in libraries and in general should be used by teachers only. I can quote from one book, which stated:

"Incest is not particularly uncommon, especially between sisters and brothers, when it can be a loving sexual relationship."
It would seem that we should exercise that discretion, because the same book talks about bestiality, without any condemnation of it whatsoever.

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about the need for consultation. Will he assure the House that parents will have the right to withdraw their children from such lessons if they see fit?

Consideration was given during the passage of the 1980 Bill to whether parents should have the right to withdraw their children from sex education classes, as with religious education. It was decided, both by this House and another place, that such a decision should not be made, because sex education is not compulsory in schools.

I know that the Inner London Education Authority has ruled that parents may withdraw their children from schools that provide sex education with which they do not agree. This week a parent from another authority wrote to me enclosing a letter from a headmaster on the subject. Where parents disagree with the way in which sex education is taught in schools, the headmasters should certainly allow withdrawal from that class.