Parents launch legal challenge over Welsh schools’ new relationships and sex education curriculum

The curriculum was launched across Welsh schools in September and sees the mandatory teaching of relationships and sexuality education to children from the age of seven. Credit: PA Images

A group of parents have launched a legal challenge against Wales' new Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum - which teaches primary school children about gender identity and sex.

Campaigners behind the challenge claim the Welsh Government has adopted "ideological totalitarianism" and is breaching the European Convention of Human Rights.

The two-day judicial review has been brought by Public Child Protection Wales, which says the new curriculum is inappropriate for primary age children.

Paul Diamond, representing the claimants, said the legal challenge centred on the “whole-school approach” of the new curriculum – where parents are not able to take their child out of the RSE classes.

The claimants want the right for parents to take their child out of RSE. Credit: PA Images
  • 'The teaching will concern not facts... but highly contentious theories relating to moral and behavioural choices'

Mr Diamond said the claimants were five parents – four mothers and one father – with children ranging in age from nine to teenagers.

Some of the children attend state schools while others have been removed due to concerns about RSE.

The curriculum was launched in September and sees the mandatory teaching of relationships and sexuality education being taught to children from from the age of three.

He said that all five claimants have "philosophical and moral objections" to the RSE curriculum and would want to exercise a parental right to excuse their child from these classes.

He also claimed that the teaching would not relate to facts but "highly contentious theories" about choices made by people.

Mr Diamond said: “The proposed teaching of Relationships and Sexuality Education in Wales is specifically constructed to be value-laden since much of the teaching, particularly that regarding LGBTQ+, will concern not facts of a scientific nature but highly contentious theories relating to moral and behavioural choices made by individuals.

“Were it to be taught as a stand-alone class and subject to a right of excusal, there would clearly not be any possibility of indoctrination.

“At stake in the present case is the question of whether there is any limit to what can be taught to children in schools or, ultimately, any place including the home and whether the state is to endorse the values of modern, liberal democracy or adopt instead a form of ideological totalitarianism.”

The barrister said despite what the Welsh Government maintained, the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021 had not removed the right to excusal.

He said if this right were to be removed, it would "be contrary to parental rights under Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention of Human Rights".

Mr Diamond added: “The approach imposed by the code and the guidance, which involves attempts to re-orient an individual’s beliefs – whether religious or not – by coerced education, manipulation, indoctrination or improper proselytization, breach the Article 9 European Convention of Human Rights on the rights of children subjected to the teaching of values which are contrary to those espoused by their parents, families and communities.

“The rights of parents to determine the education of their children is a human and constitutional right long recognised by the common law.

“It has particular application in the context of education in matters of religion and morality, in which subjects questions relating to truth and goodness are particularly controversial.”

He said that the role of the state was to “assist parents in fulfilling their duty to provide religious and moral education to their children, not to supplant it" and the claimants were seeking retention of the parental rights of excusal.

The defence said teaching children that LGBTQ+ people exist and that they should be treated equally does not contravene human rights. Credit: PA Images
  • 'It seeks to encourage understanding, respect and tolerance between human beings irrespective of their sexual orientation or identity'

Jonathan Moffett KC, representing the Welsh Government, rejected the language used by the claimants.

“Such hyperbolic rhetoric, which has been a feature of the claimants’ case throughout, is unhelpful and serves only to obscure the fact that, properly understood, the claim raises conventional public law issues in relation to the principle of legality and the lawfulness of guidance, issues which do not require anything other than a conventional forensic approach on the part of the court,” he said.

Mr Moffett said the claimants had failed to identify “what allegedly unlawful teaching” the new curriculum would adopt and instead “resort to broad assertions”.

He explained: “The claimants have not pointed to any passages in the code or the guidance that authorise or positively approve teaching that advocates or promotes any particular identity or sexual lifestyle over another, or that encourage children to self-identify in a particular way.

“There is a substantial body of reputable organisations that recognise that in our diverse society, there are persons who self-identify in a gender that is different to their biological sex at birth, and/or who self-identify as T, Q or +.

“It cannot conceivably be incompatible with Article 2 of the First Protocol to teach children that such persons exist, and that they should be treated equally and with respect.

He added: “Such teaching is entirely aligned with the pluralism requirement: it represents and reflects the diversity in society, it seeks to encourage understanding, respect and tolerance between human beings irrespective of their sexual orientation or identity, and it seeks to educate children to be responsible and emancipated citizens who are capable of participating in the democratic processes of a pluralistic society.”

Mrs Justice Steyn at the Civil Justice Centre in Cardiff reserved judgment.