September 28, 2020 | 3 minutes read

The ideology apparent in the new relationships and sex education guidance

Education is a tool of ideological reproduction and, looking at the guidance, we can see exactly what the government is trying to reproduce. We stand with those teachers who are continuing the fight to provide a student-oriented and liberatory education.

The ideology apparent in the new relationships and sex education guidance

By the end of this month, all schools across England are legally required to have implemented the Department for Education's new statutory guidance on Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education, which replaces the former Sex and Relationships Education guidance (2000). Whilst nominally concerned with updating the statutory requirements for the teaching of these subjects to the digital age, whilst centreing family, citizenship, mental wellbeing and the development of positive personal attributes - in practice these new guidelines set out to achieve other political and educational goals.

Education is a tool of ideological reproduction and, looking at the guidance, we can see exactly what the government is trying to reproduce.

Firstly, we can see that the government is very much against protests. No materials from “external agencies” are allowed to encourage or endorse illegal activity. This would include civil disobedience and property damage, two very useful and effective protest tools. Given the protests taking place in England over the summer we can consider environmental action and Black Lives Matter to be targets.

Secondly, the guidance is full of dog-whistle transphobia. The initial response to the document was from “gender critical” anti-trans activists celebrating that schools could no longer teach that “non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity”. Teachers should also “not suggest to a child that their non-compliance with gender stereotypes means that either their personality or their body is wrong”. In practice, this will isolate and harm trans children as they will not learn about the possibility of trying a new gender identity.

The section on “cancel culture” is a nod to those who think that “free speech” means that people must listen to their bigotry. It will undermine efforts in sex and relationships education to address issues of, especially, racism and transphobia (amongst other harmful and reactionary opinions). The reference to “British values” is especially concerning as we have seen that that phrase is so often used to mean “white British values”. White supremacy is a spectre throughout this guidance.

Schools are guarded against “promoting divisive or victim narratives that are harmful to British society”. In addition, any external agency that the school chooses to work with should also not select and present “information to make unsubstantiated accusations against state institutions”. This seems to preclude learning about structural oppression from anyone actually experiencing structural oppression.

Finally, there is a dangerous equivalence between capitalism and democracy. It lists examples of “extreme political stances” and includes “a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections”. Red Fightback contends that opposition to capitalism as an economic and ideological model is not the same as wanting to overthrow democracy. There is no such thing as “pure” democracy. Rather, we must ask, democracy is for what class? Indeed, one of the first steps in the revolution is for the working class to “win the battle for democracy” and for universal suffrage being one of the first and most important tasks. A true democracy, one that is run by the people, is a foundational principle of communism. Bourgeois democracy, however, is a government that only serves the interests of the bourgeois class. All the powers of the state work together to defend capitalism and the illusion of choice between different political parties works to obscure that reality.

We acknowledge that this guidance is, for the most part, aimed at relationships, sex and health education but we argue that the chilling effect will be felt across the curriculum. Just as with Section 28 and the harm that it caused, teachers will err on the side of caution and will, as a result, uphold and reproduce harmful, racist, transphobic, capitalist ideology while pretending that the stance is neutral.

We stand with those teachers who are continuing the fight to provide a student-oriented and liberatory education to young people within the confines of a bankrupt capitalist education system.