The Welsh education minister has accused campaigners of putting teachers under pressure by deliberately spreading “misinformation” about the teaching of LGBTQ+ issues.
Jeremy Miles also told of how he struggled to find his place in the world as a gay young person, in an era when “someone like me” did not exist as far as the school curriculum was concerned.
Miles said the new Welsh relationships and sexuality education (RSE) curriculum would give young people “the knowledge they need to safely navigate the modern world”. He said he hoped it would mean that in the future, young people’s introduction to the word “gay” would not be as a playground insult.
Some campaigners against the move claim it “forces LGBTQ+ teaching” on all children from the age of three and characterised the curriculum, which is being rolled out, as “woke” and “dangerous”.
Speaking after campaigners lost a high court challenge against the curriculum, Miles said for the youngest pupils, RSE was about learning how to build positive friendships, family life and being kind to each other. He said he was “appalled” that false claims made by some campaigners had put added pressure on schools and staff.
“Some schools and teachers have felt pressure from some parents. We can’t have that. We can’t have campaigners spreading misinformation and taking advantage of parents’ anxieties,” Miles said.
“It’s really important the discussion about RSE is based on what it’s really about, rather than what some campaigners are claiming. The court has found that what the campaigners are saying is completely unfounded. I’m hoping that gives reassurance to parents with anxieties.
“Very young children will be taught about the importance of kindness and friendship, not the sorts of things the campaigners have been talking about. The campaigners have been using images which are nothing to do with resources that are being used in Wales. The law requires that all teaching and resources are age-appropriate. That’s been reaffirmed by the court.”
Of his experiences of school, Miles said: “Growing up gay in the 1980s, like many, I struggled to find my place in the world. In fact, according to the curriculum back then, someone like me didn’t exist – let’s not forget section 28 was law until 2003.
“We need a curriculum that recognises people and families come in different shapes and sizes, and that hate in all its forms is unacceptable. I want to make sure the first time someone hears the word ‘gay’, it is not as an insult on the playground.
“When I was young, I went through school without having my own identity, my own feelings reflected back at me in any way. We don’t want young people in Wales to have that experience today.”
Miles, 51, said “sex education” was limited to one specific lesson when he was at school in the Swansea valley. “It was often delivered with embarrassment and met with giggling. We learned the names of body parts, that sex resulted in pregnancy and very little about safety. Most of us were left to work the rest out for ourselves,” he said.
“The previous national curriculum was put in place in 1988. Before the invention of the internet, before we fully grasped the importance of mental health, and before many of the advancements on equalities and respect we might take for granted.”
Miles said Wales had taken a “unique approach” by legislating so that all pupils access these lessons and, rather than them being delivered on a standalone basis, they are integrated into the curriculum.
“RSE now has the same approach as any other subject; it’s as essential to a pupil’s education as maths or science,” he said.
The group that led the high court action against the curriculum, Public Child Protection Wales, has said it will appeal against the ruling, continuing to argue that it exposes children to “serious dangers”.
The group has also claimed the Labour-led government is wrong not to allow parents to take their children out of RSE classes that they consider “entirely inappropriate” and believe conflict with “religious and philosophical beliefs”.
The Welsh Conservatives have backed the rights of parents to withdraw their children from RSE lessons when they feel the content is not age-appropriate.