There were a couple of news items yesterday that had the secularists up in arms. One was The British Humanist Association (BHA) complaining about proposed ‘Creationist’ Free schools getting approval from the Department for Education. The BHA has subsequently been criticised for making wild accusations from very little evidence. In response Christian blogger The Church Mouse wrote a piece on his site to attempt to bring some clarity to this story, which was then in turn picked up and published in the Guardian.
The second story was on faith schools refusing to give their female pupils a potentially life-saving cervical cancer jab at their schools on religious grounds. This is part of The Guardian’s article on it:
‘Some schools in England have opted out of the HPV vaccination programme because their pupils follow strict Christian principles and do not have sex outside marriage. The jab guards against two strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus – 16 and 18 – which cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer. It is offered routinely to girls aged 12 to 13.
‘But an investigation by GP magazine found 24 schools in 83 of England’s 152 primary care trust (PCT) areas were opting out of the vaccination programme, many of them on religious grounds.
‘The magazine found the majority of schools opting out did not tell their local GPs, where the girls could be offered the vaccine.
‘Just two of the 15 PCTs where schools are denying the vaccination course told GPs of their decision.
‘Only five of the 15 PCTs said they informed pupils or guardians how to obtain the vaccine elsewhere, the figures show.’
This programme has been running nationally since 2008 and is carried out predominantly through schools, but is also available through GPs. Worldwide, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in adults and can lead to genital warts as well as cervical cancer.
For once I’m inclined to agree with those secularists who have been criticising this news, although we mustn’t lose sight of the fact it was only 24 schools in just over half of the country. We’re only talking about a small handful nationwide.
Schools have every right to opt out of this programme, but I find their reasons hard to justify. Some of these reasons included, “not in keeping with the school ethos”, “pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage” and “the school does not want parents/students to feel pressured by peers or the school setting”.
Are these good enough reasons to deny pupils this vaccine? I asked the question in the title as to whether having this jab will make girls more promiscuous and I think this lies at the heart of why some schools are steering clear of it. If you go through life with one sexual partner who was previously a virgin then you will never get this virus. I expect that is what these schools are teaching their pupils; to save themselves for marriage.
I fully subscribe to the view that sex ideally should only happen within the context of marriage. This is the best place for it, but I also know as we all do that for most people this isn’t the case. What the schools are in effect saying is that they expect their pupils to be virgins when they get married and they also expect them to only marry a virgin. That’s a big ask.
If the pupils think it will be ok for them to sleep around once they’ve been vaccinated, then they’ve been horribly ill-informed because it won’t protect them from other sexually transmitted diseases and it won’t stop them getting pregnant. Having seen some of my own students go through the vaccination programme, with all the literature they are given it would be virtually impossible for them to come to this conclusion.
However the most shocking aspect of this piece of news is the number of primary care trusts (PCTs) who have not informed parents or GPs of the schools’ decisions not to offer the vaccination. This leaves the parents and the girls in the dark meaning some won’t even know that it is available. This is a huge failure on the part of the PCTs.
It is deeply saddening that some schools’ expectations of their pupils future sexual behaviour is so fixed and uncompromising that they are willing to deny them something that could keep them alive if they have been raped or if they marry someone who had a foolish teenage one night stand. Doesn’t this just demonstrate that the leaders of a small number of schools are completely out of touch with reality and would rather bury their heads in the sand and ignore the issue? By trying to uphold Christian values they place a heavy burden on their pupils that plenty of their staff have probably failed to hold on to.
Even after all of this, if a school is unable to bring itself to offering the vaccinations, then it absolutely becomes their duty to make sure that parents and pupils are fully informed as to how they can access it from their GP. I cannot imagine a situation where it would be excusable not to. If they don’t do this what they are effectively saying that if you do contract the virus then it’s your own fault and if it develops into cancer then that’s just tough even though it could have been prevented.
I’m really not convinced that this is what the Christian message is all about.
The think tank Theos have now obtained information from GP Magazine on the 24 schools that opted out through a Freedom of Information request. It shows that ‘only 9 of the 24 schools where the jabs had not been given were listed as religious schools. Of these, only two schools said that it was school policy not to give the jabs and that this was specifically for religious reasons. Both schools have less than 10 pupils.’ (full data)
Director of Theos, Elizabeth Hunter has written a thorough piece backing up my observation that this only affects a tiny number of pupils nationally. The numbers are even smaller than I had anticipated, which actually shows that overwhelmingly schools are doing the right thing for their pupils in offering the jab.
However, I don’t think these small numbers negate the need to discuss this matter. What I didn’t talk about originally is how many parents are discouraging or stopping their children from having the jab for religious or other reasons. Hopefully these numbers too are equally as small, but if any parent is doing this, the arguments still remain valid.
We should rightly have high expectations of how our children will conduct themselves as they grow up. We should want the best for them and that includes in their relationships. I want my children to save themselves for marriage and I’m teaching them about the importatnce of it as they grow up, but I also know I can’t control their lives forever and none of us know what the future may bring. That’s why I don’t have any problems with this jab and fortunately by the look of it most other people don’t too.