The new Education Secretary will push ahead with plans to require LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education to be taught in schools, the government has confirmed.
Former Education Secretary Justine Greening had last year launched a consultation on new guidance for sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools, which will look at compulsory provisions in the subject.
The consultation was aimed at “inviting views on age-appropriate content” that may form part of sex ed guidance – including on LGBT issues, mental wellbeing and staying safe online.
However its future was left up in the air when Theresa May sacked Greening from the Education role – replacing her with Tory MP Damian Hinds, a proponent of Catholic faith schools.
But the department gave assurances to MPs this week that LGBT issues would still be considered.
Labour MP Alex Norris had asked: “May I ask whether the new Secretary of State shares the commitment of his predecessor that relationship and sex education lessons must be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusive and reflect the needs of all young people?”
Education minister Nick Gibb said: “I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.
“We are clear that the new subjects should ensure that young people learn that there are different types of relationships. Schools should ensure therefore that RSE is inclusive and meets the needs of all young people.”
Asked how schools will be assessed for teaching on the subject, he added: “These are the issues on which we are engaging with subject experts at the moment.
“We have issued a wide call for evidence from parents, pupils, teachers and young people, and we will assess that call for evidence before we issue further guidance on the matter.
“There will be a full debate on the regulations in this House when we draft those regulations.”
Gibb added that the department was “engaging thoroughly with stakeholders to inform the design and content of the curriculum in those subjects, ensuring that they are both high quality and age appropriate”.
The statement may quell some unrest about the departure of Greening, who was one of the strongest proponents of LGBT equality in government.
She was removed from her role as Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities by Theresa May earlier this month.
May offered her a move to another department – but Greening opted to quit the government rather than allow herself to be shuffled out of her brief.
Ms Greening had also previously announced plans to review the Gender Recognition Act, a 2004 law that allows transgender people to gain legal recognition.
LGBT advocates had called for the law to be streamlined to reduce the hurdles that transgender people have to jump through to get a Gender Recognition Certificate, adopting a simpler ‘self-declaration’ system that operates in Ireland and other countries across Europe.
But the review was reportedly stalled last month after an anti-transgender media campaign, with The Times reporting that the issue’s “complex and divisive” nature had led to plans being postponed.
And Tory MPs have pressed for the issue to be dropped entirely.
Conservative MP David Davies, a strong opponent of transgender equality, called on the government to axe the plan to avoid giving rights to people who are “effectively cross-dressers”.
He said: “Given the delay to this and the fact that many LGBT campaigners are opposed to this, I would urge the government to think again.
“Although there is obvious need to protect someone who is transgender from bullying and victimisation… it’s also important that we don’t allow women’s rights to be trampled on to allow those who are effectively cross-dressers to enter places, such as changing rooms, hospital wards and prisons, where women would expect privacy.”
Greening has urged the government to carry on her equalities work, challenging Home Secretary Amber Rudd in Parliament earlier this month.
The former minister said: “First of all I’d like to congratulate the Home Secretary on her expanded role. I know she will do a brilliant job.”
“She will know that young people, parents and teachers think it’s vital in a modern internet world to see sex and relationship education updated.
“Can she confirm that the government will push ahead with updating the guidance that is now so out of date, and also if she will meet with myself, [Women and Equalities Select Committee chair Maria Miller MP], and also [Labour’s Sarah Champion MP], to make sure we can have a cross party support for the work that is being undertaken?”
Ms Rudd responded: “Can I start by thanking the Rt Hon Lady for the enormous good work that she did in this role, and I will try my best to keep up the momentum that she provided.
“One of the fantastic things that she did was lead on making sure that sex and relationship education is going to be provided in all schools.
“I will be delighted to work with her to make sure that that is the case, and also across the house to make sure the outcome is one that the whole house can support, as I know that everybody believes this is an important issue.”