The recently passed Academies Act is set to fundamentally alter education in the UK and risks increasing the influence of anti-choice groups in British schools.
Rushed through parliament and passed into law on July 27, the flagship Conservative bill allows controversial academies and “free schools” to escape from the control of their local authority, giving them unprecedented latitude to include extreme religious and anti-choice views in their curricula.
In a British Humanist Association poll, 72% of the public expressed concern that “faith academies” may use public funds to promote religious beliefs. Their concerns seem justified, as the Church of England has been the largest sponsor of the new academies system since its inception.
Proposed amendments would have made PSHE (personal, social, health, and economics education) mandatory in the new schools, as many critics of the bill fear autonomous faith-based academies would be allowed escape teaching objective sex and relationships education.
Shadow education secretary Ed Balls, told the Guardian he is fearful this radical overhaul will lead to “social apartheid” in education. Along with other opposition MPs, Mr. Balls specifically tried to insert an amendment to the Academies Bill to secure the PSHE and SRE entitlement for all pupils.
Abortion Rights has continuously campaigned for mandatory SRE in UK schools. Further supporting this view, the former parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights considers this provision as a “significant human rights enhancing measure.”
Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove denies that extremist groups will be allowed to run the new wave of schools, several hundred of which are planning to transfer to the academies system by September, but he has not guaranteed the protection of SRE in universal curricula.
Abortion Rights believes this deregulation of school authority may permanently damage students’ rights to a balanced education, instead widening anti-choice influence in schools and threatening to implement a “two-tier” and segregated system without objective sexual health education in the UK.