An independent review of sex education is set to be ordered by the Prime Minister, amid growing frustration with the Education Secretary.
The Government is scrambling to respond to mounting alarm among parents over the teaching of sex and gender in schools.
Rishi Sunak is now preparing to announce as soon as Friday that an independent panel of experts will lead a review of sex education lessons, taking over work already started by the Department for Education (DfE), The Telegraph understands.
The Prime Minister ordered the DfE to bring forward the review earlier this month after he was presented with a dossier of evidence showing the widespread teaching of gender fluidity as fact.
However, MPs and peers have urged Mr Sunak to take oversight of the review out of Education Secretary Gillian Keegan’s hands.
Concern over ‘soft’ approach
Senior government figures are understood to be concerned about the Education Secretary’s “soft” approach to transgender issues. They cited her remarks earlier this year when she suggested that 16-year-olds are old enough to decide to change their gender.
Her comments came after Mr Sunak blocked a controversial Scottish self-ID Bill.
Downing Street is also understood to be concerned that the DfE has been overly influenced by trans activists, and fear the Education Secretary has failed to act quickly enough to recognise the political importance of addressing parents’ concerns about sex education and transgender pupils in schools.
“Downing Street officials have not been shy to express their bewilderment at DfE’s approach to these issues which has left the Government exposed on an issue it should be owning,” a Whitehall source said.
On Thursday, Mr Sunak was forced to intervene over demands for transgender guidance in schools, which has stalled under a succession of education secretaries, including Mrs Keegan, who had said it would be published early this year.
Transgender guidance to be published in summer
He pledged to publish the guidance during the summer term after a report by the think tank Policy Exchange revealed that less than a third of state secondary schools would reliably inform parents if their child was questioning their gender.
“These are really sensitive areas, it’s important that we treat them sensitively, and that parents know what’s going on, and we’ll make sure that that happens,” he said.
The Policy Exchange report, titled Asleep at the Wheel, argued that the DfE has allowed external agencies to have considerable influence in embedding gender identity beliefs within the current Relationships Sex and Health Education curriculum. DfE has been criticised for previously working with transgender rights charities such as Mermaids.
Miriam Cates, the Conservative MP who has campaigned for reform of sex education in schools, said: “Over the last few years, parents who have raised concerns with the DfE about sexualizing and indoctrinating materials being used in schools have been ignored, demonstrating a worrying lack of understanding around safeguarding.
“It is also clear that the department has had close relationships in the recent past with some of the activist organisations responsible for providing some of the most inappropriate RSE materials, so it would be difficult for the department to take an objective view.”
A spokesman for the Bayswater group of parents of trans-identified adolescents and young people in the UK, said: “Bayswater and individual members have written to the Department of Education on many occasions, raising very specific safeguarding concerns around gender identity ideology in schools. Every time, officials respond to state that clear RHSE statutory guidance already exists and that new guidance for supporting transgender pupils is being developed. They have not addressed our concerns around safeguarding.”
Mrs Keegan was made Education Secretary in October after Mr Sunak became Prime Minister, and was the fifth politician to serve in the role in four months. A former apprentice who left school at 16, she was hailed as an ideal candidate to lead on one of the Government’s flagship skills agendas.
It is understood that she will review the recommendations of the independent panel of experts on sex education.
A DfE source said Mrs Keegan is clear that contested gender ideologies “should not be taught as fact” in schools and said that she would always consult independent experts on new guidance.
In a statement, Mrs Keegan said: “Policy Exchange’s report is deeply concerning and further demonstrates why we are taking decisive action.
“I am urgently bringing forward fresh guidance for schools to make sure they are equipped to support children, keep them safe, and are using teaching materials that are genuinely age appropriate.
“I am clear that parents should have access to teaching materials used for relationships and sex education and that they should be involved in decisions about their children.”