Catholic Trustees concerned that new law brought forward by Secretary of State imposes abortion ideology on schools

by | 10 Nov, 2023 | Church, News, World

The Catholic Schools’ Trustee Service (CSTS) today publishes its submission – see link here – to the Department of Education’s Relationships and Sexuality Education Consultation.  The CSTS calls on parents, carers and others, who share its concerns, to express these by responding to the Department’s consultation before it closes on 24 November next.  To do so, see: Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Consultation | Department of Education (

The Trustees Service believes that the legislation brought forward through Westminster by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in June of this year:
– places significant new responsibilities on Board of Governors and Principals;
– it directly undermines the rights of parents; and,
– it challenges the rights of Trustees to promote a faith-based education within the largest education sector in Northern Ireland.

CSTS is very concerned that this has been done to impose on schools a particular ideological view of abortion and the prevention of early pregnancy.

According to Bishop Donal McKeown (pictured), chairperson of CSTS, “our vision of education asserts the rights of parents and carers to have their children educated in accordance with their ethical, religious and philosophical convictions.”

In its response to the Department’s consultation, CSTS asserts that the new legislation:

“undermines the parent’s or carer’s right to have their children educated in accordance with their ethical, religious, and philosophical convictions, as is recognised through international human rights legislation.  Legislative topics of such sensitivity should have remained, it says, a matter for a locally elected assembly to consult upon, debate, and agree a way forward that best meets the needs of the people in this jurisdiction.”

CSTS goes on to say that, “it is incomprehensible that, in bringing forward such legislation, it was determined that no formal consultation was required.”

CSTS notes that the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) report directly into UK law, was legislatively unusual and makes drafting guidance all the more complex.  Interpreting what is “scientifically accurate” on sexual and reproductive health brings into play key existential questions on when life begins.  The CSTS response to  the Department’s consultation maintains that the legislation uses imprecise and opaque aspirations from the CEDAW report, including phrases such as “age-appropriate,” “comprehensive” and “scientifically accurate education,” without including any definition of such, leaving the legislation open to vastly different interpretations and understandings.

The CSTS explains that the vision of life in Catholic schools is inspired by Gospel values and presents an understanding of human sexuality as a gift from God which determines our capacity to give and receive love.

Bishop McKeown continued: “The background to this consultation is in legislation brought forward by the Secretary of State.  This legislation has created significant concern in that it potentially imposes a specific ideological view of abortion and the prevention of early pregnancy which directly challenges the rights of Catholic schools to offer a faith-based worldview on such matters.  There is no ethically neutral or value free approach to the question of when human life begins.  The expectation that schools should become engaged in the delivery of an allegedly neutral curriculum which highlights access to abortion shows no understanding of the foundational principles of Catholic education.

“Furthermore, any education in ‘sexual health’ cannot be seen as a free-standing issue separate from the bigger picture of helping young people grow into mature adults in a highly sexualised world.  A healthy discussion of sexuality has to be part of a curriculum that promotes mental health and well-being.  That is exactly what a faith-based relationships education programme seeks to do.”

CSTS expresses concern that the imposition of this legislation has disturbed schools, carers, and others, and has already led to calls from many parents or carers to have their children and young people withdrawn from all aspects of Relationship and Sexuality Education.



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