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Welsh parents set to lose sex-ed right of withdrawal after Parliament vote

Marriage and Family
17 December 2020
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Parental rights suffered a signficiant blow after the Welsh Parliament voted 41-10 in favour of new legislation which will fundamentally change the roles of parents and the state in respect to education in Wales.

On Tuesday 15 December, Senedd Members voted on the Welsh Government’s Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill at Stage 1.

If the bill passes its remaining stages unchanged, Sex Education will be replaced by a new mandatory subject called Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) for children aged 3-16.

Religious Education will be replaced by a new mandatory subject called Religion, Values and Ethics (RVE).

For both subjects, the right of parents to withdraw their children will be removed entirely. This right previously applied to both Sex Education and Religious Education.

Under the bill, children will also no longer have to learn about the nature of marriage and the importance of family life. The protection from teaching and materials which are inappropriate in regards to their religious and cultural background also disappears.

One MS who voted against the bill at Stage 1 was Darren Millar MS. In his speech, Mr Millar argued that parents, not schools were the primary educators of their children:

Our education system in Wales is based on the principle that parents, not the state, are the primary educators of their children, and that schools look after children, not on their own terms, but in loco parentis, in the place of parents and with parental permission.

It's in recognition of this very important principle that parents have long enjoyed the right to withdraw their children from the two subjects that engage questions of families' world views, namely sex education and religious education.

The provision of the right to withdraw in relation to these two subjects has also provided a means by which we can demonstrate that the state meets its obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Article 2 of protocol 1 refers to the right of education and it states that, and I quote, 'the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.'

Now, I must stress that the importance of the right to withdrawal is manifest not in its frequent use, but rather its potential use. The existence of the right to withdrawal reminds schools that they sit in loco parentis. When children go home at the end of the day, they're not looked after by parents serving the state in loco res publica.

It is vital that in a free society parents should be allowed a very large degree of autonomy in the way that they discharge their parental responsibilities to educate and raise their children.
Darren Millar MS

What hap­pens next?

The leiglsation will move to Stage 2 in the New Year where there will opportunities to table amendments to the bill.

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