Parents lose legal challenge against teaching of gender identity and sex in Welsh primary schools

Credit: PA

Parents have lost a legal challenge against the teaching of gender identity and sex in primary schools across Wales.

Campaigners had launched a judicial review in the High Court against the Welsh Government’s new Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum.

The curriculum, which was launched in September, sees the mandatory teaching of relationships and sexuality education to pupils from the age of seven.

The High Court ruled in favour of Welsh Ministers, that the content of RSE did not “breach the prohibition on indoctrination.”

Campaigners from the Public Child Protection Wales group have vowed to appeal the decision.

The decision follows a two-day legal hearing, which was heard in November at the Civil Justice Centre in Cardiff.

The claimants were five parents – four mothers and one father – with school-age children, who have "moral and philosophical objections" about the RSE teaching.

Dismissing all aspects of the claim, Mrs Justice Steyn said that the teaching of RSE was not a breach of Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights (A2P1).

“In my judgment, for the reasons I have given, the case law and texts relied upon by the claimants do not support the existence of a fundamental common law right of excusal.

“This conclusion is unsurprising, given the nature of the claimed right, which is conceptually dependent on a pre-existing obligation of school attendance, and which, as defined by the claimants, has the appearance of legislation rather than a common law right.

“In my judgment, the content of the code and the guidance is consistent with the requirement to take care to ensure that RSE teaching is conveyed in an objective critical and pluralistic manner, and does not breach the prohibition on indoctrination.

“There is nothing in the code or the guidance that authorises or positively approves teaching that advocates or promotes any particular identity or sexual lifestyle over another, or that encourages children to self-identify in a particular way.”

The judge said the code required RSE to be “inclusive” and to “reflect diversity”, including by developing awareness of different identities, views and values.

“On its face, this paragraph is consistent with the pluralism requirement.

“Head teachers would understand that this paragraph means that RSE should develop pupils’ awareness of different identities, and a diversity of relationships, gender and sexuality, including LGBTQ+ lives, as well as developing their awareness of differing views and values...“The fact that such teaching is likely to include the expression of some views with which the claimants profoundly disagree and, no doubt, other views with which others would disagree equally strongly does not violate A2P1.”

Vivienne Laing, from NSPCC Cymru/Wales, said she "welcomes" the decision and that RSE "has lifelong benefits for children and young people" Credit: PA

In written arguments ahead of the judicial review, Paul Diamond, representing the claimants, said the legal challenge centred on the “whole-school approach” of the new curriculum – and it was not subject to any rights of parental excusal.

He said the parents "would wish to exercise rights of excusal" on behalf of their children.

“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," Mr Diamond said.

“Were it to be taught as a standalone 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.”

In a statement, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language Jeremy Miles MS said: "We have been clear that RSE is intended to keep children safe and to promote respect and healthy relationships.

"Now more than ever, our children need our help in protecting them from harmful content and people online. RSE should provide young people with confidence to say no to bullies, to call out harassment, and to understand that families come in all shapes and sizes.

"Parents can expect the teaching their children receive to be appropriate for their children’s age and maturity: this is a legal requirement."I want parents to understand what is being taught and what resources are being used, and for schools to take the time to have those discussions with parents. This will require time, patience and confidence-building."

People protested outside the Civil Justice Centre in Cardiff last month against the new curriculum. Credit: Wales Online

Commenting on the news, Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Minister, Laura Anne Jones MS said: “I am disappointed by, but of course respect, the High Court verdict today. While the courts have found in favour of the Labour Government, this decision should not be allowed to delegitimise the concerns of Welsh parents in any way.

“The plight of parents should not be ignored and I will ensure that pertinent questions are raised regarding the teaching of RSE, with the Education Minister and that the answers we seek are sought out.

“We continue to support the rights of parents to withdraw their children from RSE lessons when they feel the content is not age appropriate.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...