Scottish Executive to fund abstinence-based sex education programme in Catholic schools

The Scottish Executive has deliberately taken a “low-key” approach to revealing details of a controversial abstinence-based sex education programme which is to be introduced in Catholic schools. The Sunday Herald revealed last week how ministers are to fund the £170,000 project which will set itself against “artificial contraception”. Critics fear it will lead to a two-tier sex education system.

While health minister Andy Kerr has described the “Called To Love” programme as a “positive step”, e-mails obtained through freedom of information legislation show that the Executive decided not to actively promote it. Correspondence from NHS Lothian to the Executive said: “Just to confirm, you recommend sending the [press] release out in a low-key way and will await media enquiries (no ‘launch’ as such).”

The programme is being developed by "Healthy Respect" and the Scottish Catholic Education Service. It will provide materials, a website and training for staff in Catholic schools and is to be piloted in secondary schools in Inverclyde and Edinburgh this summer. Catholic education leaders say it will focus on delaying sex until marriage and that condoms and other contraceptives will not be promoted. Abortion issues will also not be addressed as “it isn’t part of sex education”.

It is the first time the "Healthy Respect" project will be introduced in Catholic schools: in non-denominational schools, it actively promotes contraception, including providing access to condoms for pupils. This has elicited fears among campaigners that a separate sex education system is being introduced by the back door for pupils in Catholic schools.

This comes after Kerr was accused of changing the much-delayed strategy on sexual health, launched last year, to allay the fears of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics.

‘Low-key’ approach to sex strategy (Sunday herald, 9 April 2006)