We have written an open letter to Professor Arif Ahmed, Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the Office for Students, to raise concerns relating to the influence of experimental academic discourse on public policy. You can read this below.
Dear Professor Ahmed,
Congratulations on your appointment as Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the Office for Students. We write to you as concerned parents, guardians, teachers and professionals with regards to academic freedom and its interaction with the safeguarding of children.
Safe Schools Alliance was established in 2019 in response to the significant increase in safeguarding failures in primary and secondary schools across the U.K.. Safe Schools Alliance is an apolitical, secular organisation that takes a safeguarding first approach and supports high quality, age-appropriate sex education.
The U.K. government is now beginning to recognise that poor quality and dangerous pedagogical practice and materials are in use in some British schools. Recently, the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, sent a letter to all schools in England asserting that parents must be permitted to see the material to which their children are exposed for RSE/PSHE, acknowledging that parents have an essential role to play in safeguarding their children.
‘Safeguarding First‘ or Academic Freedom?
We expect you to be already committed to the safeguarding of children and the principles and practices that underpin this. Nevertheless, for clarity we have included a one page summary of what constitutes child safeguarding in U.K. schools in Annex 1.
In our investigations into the rise of safeguarding failures in British schools, we find that recently established paradigms in higher education have profoundly influenced contemporary policy and practice in relationships, sex and sexuality education. We are concerned that the academic research currently relied upon lacks robust ethical oversight and impartial peer review processes, which has resulted in the introduction of experimental and harmful approaches, curricula, materials and pedagogy to U.K. schools that undermine the most fundamental of child safeguarding principles and practice. This includes but is not limited to the exposure of children to concepts, content and activities that may be considered illegal under the Sex Offences Act 2003, and the promotion of partisan political beliefs, which is prohibited under the Education Act 1996.
There are complex issues to unpack and an urgent need to improve the safeguarding of children, with which we would be grateful for your support, including backing a full independent inquiry into the sexualisation of children in higher education. We outline our concerns about what is happening below with examples from across the U.K, and ask you to answer two questions:
To what extent should freedom of speech and academic freedom permit the sexualisation of children?
What will the Office for Students do about the recently established paradigm in higher education that is currently embedded in multiple academic fields, which promotes and encourages research and pedagogies in U.K. schools that should be recognised as illegal under the Sex Offences Act 2003 and Education Act 1996?
Culture of Child Sexualisation in Higher Education
In recent decades there appears to have been a rise in the number of academics conducting research into so-called ‘childhood sexuality’ in the U.K. This research is predicated upon the hypothesis that children are ‘sexual beings’ from birth, and argues they have unmet sexual needs. The aim of this appears to be to manufacture evidence that supports such a hypothesis, along with the production of teaching material and pedagogical approaches that sexualise children.
We identify that the exposure of children to sexual content, whether in the guise of research, peer reviewed teaching material and pedagogic approaches, or otherwise, to be a form of non-contact child sexual abuse.
We identify that the commercialisation of teaching materials that sexualise children to be a form of child sexual exploitation.
We identify that the uncritical promotion of harmful, niche ideologies in higher education, under the guise of “diversity, equity and inclusion”, or otherwise, to be a failure of higher education’s purpose to enable students to succeed, ensure confidence in high quality courses, advance intellectual development and shape a civilised society, and will bring higher education in the UK into disrepute.
We are deeply concerned that such sexualising approaches and associated research are bypassing or being uncritically accepted by ethics committees in higher education institutes across the UK and are being endorsed by the Research Excellence Framework, through which a harmful anti-safeguarding paradigm is now becoming entrenched in British schools and society.
What is further worrying is that there appears to be a lack of free speech in academia in the form of visible counter narratives to this new paradigm beyond safeguarding groups outside of academia like ours.
We look forward to your response confirming your commitment to child safeguarding and in answer to our questions regarding its interaction with freedom of speech and academic freedom.
Tanya Carter and Tracy Shaw
Safe Schools Alliance UK
Academics and students in British Higher Education Institutions promoting sexualised perspectives of children and age-inappropriate content.
London School of Economics
Jacob Breslow made headlines as a PhD student at the London School of Economics in 2022, having spoken at a conference hosted by an organisation that promotes services for paedophiles. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11279121/Mermaids-trustee-steps-speaking-event-hosted-paedophile-supporting-organisation.html
University of the Arts London
Amy Crozier produced a final project ‘Becoming Me’, targeted at children as young as 10, which includes sexually explicit and age-inappropriate illustrations, alongside glorification and promotion of drug use and cosmetic surgery to young children. https://graduateshowcase.arts.ac.uk/project/478471/cover
University of Essex
Ester McGeeney is co-author of ‘Great Relationships and Sex Education’ with Sex Education Forum member Alice Hoyle. This book contains hundreds of activities, many of which are age inappropriate, and is marketed as a “leading” resource directly to schools in the UK. She was also involved in the development of the controversial Welsh “Relationships and Sexuality Education” curriculum with Prof EJ Renold of Cardiff University, which is now compulsory for all Welsh children from the age of 36 months. McGeeney advocates for a “sex positive” approach to children’s education and concerns exist over the ethical validity of her research. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ester-McGeeney/e/B082MNN3SK%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share