Voices: Thanks, Sunak – how will our son learn his same-sex family is normal now?

Banning schools from teaching sex education to children under nine is a ‘grubby vote grab’  (PA)
Banning schools from teaching sex education to children under nine is a ‘grubby vote grab’ (PA)

The latest idea trotted out by Rishi Sunak in a desperate bid to avoid election annihilation has seen the government release plans to overhaul part of the education system.

Fantastic, you say. Has the government announced free degrees for teachers? Are they scrapping student loans, pouring funding into the now defunct Sure Start scheme, or extending free school meals to all? Nope, it’s the change demanded by absolutely nobody: the overhaul of relationships, sex education and health guidance (RHSE).

In what appears to be part of the Tories’ “war on woke”, there will be no sex education of any kind for under-nines. Gender identity is also not up for discussion, and detailed conversations about sex and contraception will be postponed until children are 13 or over.

That means that in Year 9, teenagers will finally be taught in more detail about sex and contraception. When you consider that five per cent of pregnancies in under-18s are to girls who are aged 14 or under, this seems a little like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

And while hand-wringing parents seem to worry about little Jimmy coming home aged seven and talking about orgies, the reality is that age-appropriate discussions about sex, bodies and consent are hugely important for safeguarding children, and pave the way for open and honest discussions about sex and relationships in future.

Since parents can already opt their children out of sex education if they don’t want them to be given factual information by a trained teacher (who needs that when you’ve got a smartphone and Google, eh, folks?), the new statutory guidance rather begs the question: who is this for?

Of course, we already know the answer. It’s for the self-proclaimed anti-“woke” brigade, who believe that kids are filtering into school aged five, handed a rainbow flag and told they’re any gender they want.

For Sunak, I don’t think it’s a true issue of concern or conscience. I very much doubt the prime minister is sitting awake at night pondering what age children should start to learn about human biology – he’s working out whether there’s a way to avoid a trouncing at the polls.

The truth is, there isn’t. And a grubby vote grab that throws a few children under the bus won’t change that. It will change things for them though – the children who want to talk about their gender, the kids who need to know more about consent, or have conversations about contraception.

Conservatives backing the move claim that parents are being undermined – that a political agenda is being pushed (oh, the irony). Did we learn nothing from previous restrictive legislation that banned the "promotion of homosexuality" in education?

Comparisons to the deathly Section 28 are not without merit. I grew up in the 1980s, when questions about sexuality were left unanswered, and representation was swept under the rug. Gay teachers worried they would lose their jobs. LGBT+ kids were left alone to worry.

Twenty years after the abolition of Section 28 – and as the gay parent of a primary school-aged child – I wonder about the unintended consequences of the Tories’ new guidance. Will the children of LGBT+ parents be able to talk about their families? Will gay relationships be branded "age inappropriate" or "extreme"? Will valid questions about gender and sexuality go unanswered – or worse, be answered via fear-inducing smartphones rather than in a classroom setting?

With these new guidelines, it seems the children of parents who grew up in the shadow of Section 28 are doomed to experience the very worst the education system has to offer in terms of representation.

Because the Conservatives are right about one thing – schools should be a safe place. They should be a safe place for questions, discussion and debate. They should be a safe place for children to disclose safeguarding concerns. Banning discussions about gender identity, and shying away from arming students with information about sex and contraception, does young people a huge disservice.

This move may well win Sunak a few votes. But kids stand to lose a lot more.