Mumsnet vs the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child on sex education

What is it about the SPUC that makes it more worthy of ministerial attention than the Mumsnetters?

You can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep. So what does it mean when the minister of state for schools appears to be courting the pro-life idealogues of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, while ignoring a hugely popular network like Mumsnet? Both SPUC and Mumsnet wrote letters to the Department of Education regarding sex education. Both letters were received. But only one got a reply. Nick Gibb MP took time to write back to SPUC; Mumsnet got nothing.

This is curious. Of course, a minister can’t respond personally to every query, but when it comes from a website that gets five million visits a month, you might imagine a politician could see the argument for answering: that’s a lot of potential voters you could reach for the price of some Basildon Bond and a stamp. SPUC claims 45,000 members in the UK. So what is it about those 45,000 that makes them more worthy of ministerial attention than the Mumsnetters?

The answer is that Gibb seems to be following the path of his anti-choice appeasing colleague, secretary of state for Health Andrew Lansley, and cosying up to the most reactionary elements he can find. And SPUC is pretty reactionary. The organisation is ostensibly a campaign against abortion. However, it has expanded its remit to oppose contraception, same-sex marriage – and now, sex education through the Safe at School campaign. The Safe at School campaign relies on one sinister question: “Do you know if your child is safe at school?” From that seed of uncertainty, it seeks to convince parents that schools are practising a sort of institutionalised child abuse by teaching children anything to do with reproduction. “Sex education in school […] is priming children from the age of five to become sexually active,” it says, marking the exact point where enforced ignorance and victim-blaming meet.

The SPUC attitude is inadvertently a paedophile’s dream. Not only does it falsely suggest that pre-pubescent children can be coaxed into sexual activity (Humberts rejoice! SPUC says your victims have been taught to want it), but it also seeks to deprive children of a vocabulary with which they can discuss, and so have control over, their own bodies. It’s this base level of knowledge – the simple naming of parts – that SPUC seeks to deprive children of.

In his letter to SPUC, Gibb writes: “I can confirm that neither the National Curriculum nor the new draft programme of study requires the naming of internal or external body parts with regard to reproduction.” For SPUC, this opens the way for them to resist schools providing any information to children about reproduction, and the organisation’s website is already celebrating the withdrawal of schools from sex ed under pressure from SPUC campaigners.

But SPUC does not represent the majority of parents. Mumsnet’s letter to the DoE – the one that Nick Gibb didn’t reply to – highlighted the results of a survey of its members’ attitude to sex and relationships education. These findings obviously can’t be extrapolated to the whole population, but they are strikingly positive: 92 per cent were happy for their children to attend SRE classes, and 69 per cent thought the subject should be compulsory at primary school.

“It seems odd for the government to ignore parents' views when it comes to sex education, and you have to wonder why," says Justine Roberts, Mumsnet co-founder and CEO. To a suspicious mindset, it might appear to be that ministers are on a mission of appeasement to the social conservative tendency, regardless of what parents really want or what is right for children.

 

Why didn't Mumsnet get a response on sex education?

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Manchester united: "A minority of absolute idiots are trying to break us apart"

At the vigil, one man's T-shirt read: "The only thing that's allowed to be separated by colour is the laundry."

A day after one of the worst atrocities in the history of the city, Manchester's people were keen to show the world the resilience of the Mancunian spirit.

Dom's, an Italian restaurant, is in walking distance from Manchester Arena, where 22 people lost their lives to a suicide bomber the night before. On Tuesday, the staff were giving out free coffee, tea and pizza to anyone who needed it. On a table outside, there was a condolences book, and teary passersby left RIP messages to those who perished. Under a bright blue sky, the community seemed more united than ever, the goodwill pouring out of everyone I met. But the general mood was sombre. 

"We need to make space for healing and for building up our community again, and just getting people to feel comfortable in their own city," the Dean of Manchester, Rogers Govendor, told me.

The terrorist has been named as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old Mancunian of Libyan descent. But with a population of 600,000, Manchester is a cosmopolitan hub, and proud of it. Throughout the day I encountered people of all skin shades and religions. On one of the roads off Albert Square, a couple of Orthodox Jewish boys set up a little stand, where people could grab a bottle of water and, if they so desired, hold hands and pray.

On the night of the tragedy, Muslim and Sikh cab drivers turned off the meter and made their way to Manchester Arena to offer free rides to anyone - many of them injured - who trying to escape the mayhem and reach safety. "It's what we do around here," my taxi driver said with a thick Arabic accent.

The dissonance between the increasingly frantic debate on social media and what was discussed on the streets was stark. I spoke, on and off the record, with about two dozen residents, eavesdropped on a number of conversations, and not once did I hear anyone speaking out against the cultural melting pot that Manchester is today. If anything, people were more eager than ever to highlight it. 

"Manchester has always been hugely multicultural, and people always pull together at times of trouble and need," said Andrew Hicklin. "They are not going to change our society and who we are as people. We live free lives."

It was also a day where political divisions were put aside. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn agreed to suspend their campaigns. For the next few days there will be no Labour vs Tory, no Brexiteer vs Remainer, at least not in this part of the country. This city has closed ranks and nothing will be allowed to come between that cohesion.

"I don't demonise anyone," said Dennis Bolster, who stopped by to sign the condolences book outside Dom's. "I just know a small minority of absolute idiots, driven by whatever they think they are driven by, are the people who are trying to break us apart."

Later in the day, as people were getting off work, thousands flocked to Albert Square to show their respects to the victims. Members of the Sikh community entered the square carrying "I love MCR" signs. The crowd promptly applauded. A middle-aged man wore a T-shirt which said: "The only thing that's allowed to be separated by colour is the laundry." A moment of silent was observed. It was eerie, at times overwhelmingly sad. But it was also moving and inspiring.

Local poet Tony Walsh brought brief respite from the pain when he recited "This is the Place", his ode to the city and its people. The first verse went:

This is the place In the north-west of England. It’s ace, it’s the best

And the songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands

Set the whole planet shaking.

Our inventions are legends. There’s nowt we can’t make, and so we make brilliant music

We make brilliant bands

We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands

On stage, everyday political foes became temporary allies. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, home secretary Amber Rudd, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and house speaker John Bercow all brushed shoulders. Their message was clear: "we are Manchester too."

The vigil lasted a little over half an hour. On other occasions, a crowd this size in the centre of Manchester would give authorities reason for concern. But not this time. Everyone was in their best behaviour. Only a few were drinking. 

As Mancunians made their way home, I went over to a family that had been standing not far from me during the vigil. The two children, a boy and a girl, both not older than 10, were clutching their parents' hands the whole time. I asked dad if he will give them a few extra hugs and kisses as he tucks them in tonight. "Oh, absolutely," he said. "Some parents whose children went to the concert last night won't ever get to do that again. It's heartbreaking."

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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