Anti-abortion group has made dozens of school visits

By James McEnaney

A controversial anti-abortion group has carried out dozens of school visits in the past five years and has been publicly endorsed by several Scottish teachers, an investigation by The Herald reveals.

Figures show that the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has visited schools in at least eight of Scotland’s council areas.

It was recently reported that the organization, which has opposed same-sex marriage and the movement to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics, received tens of thousands of dollars from supporters in the US whose identities have been disclosed. they have hidden

Material promoted by SPUC was also recently pulled from the popular BBC Bitesize study support website.

Critics have expressed “serious concerns” about the visits, calling on councils to “state their reasons for facilitating them” and demanding that all children’s rights be respected.

The Herald asked all councils to confirm whether or not SPUC had visited their schools since August 2017.

Glasgow City Council revealed that SPUC representatives have visited one school, St Paul’s High School, 33 times since 2017.

Three other Glasgow schools (All Saints Secondary, St Mungo’s Academy and Notre Dame High School) each received a visit from the SPUC.

Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Highland, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire councils also confirmed that SPUC have visited schools since 2017.

Some schools were visited for several days at a time and on multiple occasions during that period.

Turnbull High School in Bishopbriggs received at least 25 visits, while St John’s High School in Dundee allowed nine visits.

The total number of visits to schools in North Lanarkshire is unknown as dates have not been recorded, but four separate schools have received SPUC visits over a number of years.

During these events, SPUC representatives spoke to students on topics such as abortion and euthanasia, but other sessions focused on topics such as embryology.

The SPUC also ran sessions on ‘Relationships’ which, according to material published by East Dunbartonshire council, covers “sexual relationships, sexual health and the emotional and social elements of sexual relationships and consent”.

Highland council confirmed that there is “a SPUC Primary 7 group at a school in The Highland Council area” and that this is “supported by the SPUC education group”.

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The school in question received a visit from the SPUC in February 2022 that registered as an “Intro to Tiny Feet club”.

One primary school in Dundee was also recorded to have had at least one ‘Tiny Feet’-themed visit during the 2020/2021 school year.

Resources uncovered by the investigation show that comments from Scottish schools are also used as testimonials in SPUC promotional material.

A brochure on school presentations and workshops cites staff from four different secondary schools: St Peter the Apostle High School in Clydebank, St Andrew’s and St Bride’s High School in South Lanarkshire, and St Ninian’s High School and Turnbull High School in East Dunbartonshire.

Comments included praise for giving students a ‘clear pro-life message’, while another appreciated that the speaker was able to ‘support and improve what we need to do as teachers’.

Nick Hobbs, Head of Advice and Investigations at the Children’s Office

and the Youth Commissioner for Scotland, said: “Sex and relationship education is an important element of a child’s right to education in terms of Articles 28 and 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC). It also supports the rights of children to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse in terms of articles 19 and 34, and to seek and receive information in terms of article 13.

“Lessons on Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenting (RSHP), particularly those on sensitive topics relating to bodily autonomy rights and reproductive rights, should be rights-based and delivered by professionals trained in an age appropriate, sensitive, and objective manner.

“Local authorities and Scottish Government, which has overall responsibility, must ensure that the content of sessions provided by external organizations is rights-based and consistent with the principles and approach of the Curriculum for Excellence.”

Fraser Sutherland, chief executive of the Scottish Humanist Society, said they had “serious concerns”. about repeated visits by SPUC to schools in Scotland.

“There is a big difference between schools objectively presenting different views and repeatedly inviting groups that hold anti-abortion views,” he said.

A SPUC spokesperson said: “Information provided in schools must be based on sound evidence and experience.

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“Medical teachers or professionals who don’t deal with particular topics on a regular basis can benefit from the support of those who are so familiar with a topic. SPUC provides such support and always does so under the approval and supervision of the teachers who invite us to their classrooms.

“The language in the Tiny Feet package is intended to be sensitive and appropriate to the age of the students who may use it. It has been created using the experience of many professors and academics to ensure that it is accurate.

“Any suggestions to improve the way topics are described or how any information is presented is always welcome for your consideration. A recent package update is about to go to print based on such suggestions.

“The package is not intended to address the issue of abortion, but simply as an objective tool to impart the truth about the development of human life in the womb.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said she believed all women in Scotland should be able to access timely abortion services without trial “within the limits of the law”.

“The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all students receive high-quality relationship, sexual health and parenting (RSHP) education.

“While it is up to boards and schools to decide how to provide RSHP education, including abortion, this must always be factual and presented in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of strong values ​​and knowledge of the law,” she said. .

A Glasgow city council spokeswoman said head teachers had discretionary powers regarding the appropriateness and regularity of school visits by outside organisations. “We trust their delegated decision-making judgments on these matters,” she said.

“SPUC Scotland is a registered charity and is therefore considered an appropriate partner for schools to work with. Freedom of expression is a key tenet of our curriculum and it is important that our youth have the opportunity to hear different perspectives from outside organizations.

“We trust our principals to ensure that contributions reflect the values, ethos and ambitions of the school and the broader educational curriculum.

Ann Davie, East Dunbartonshire Council Deputy Chief Executive, said: “School visits by external organizations give young people the opportunity to discuss and debate a range of real-world topics, as an extension of the curriculum. .

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“When sensitive and challenging life issues are discussed, it is done in a supportive environment and students are encouraged to seek additional help, support or information if they need it.”

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Willie Rennie MSP: said schools needed to be careful who they allowed to speak to pupils.

“Information about pregnancy and abortion should come from qualified teachers or medical professionals,” she said.

“At the very least, there should be a broader representation from a broader range of groups with a variety of perspectives on any one visit.

“Otherwise, there is a real risk that students will leave these sessions with a less useful and realistic perspective of the world than they had when they entered.

“Local authorities need to establish what their justification is for facilitating these visits and then there needs to be a proper public debate about whether such activities have a place in Scottish schools.”

Fraser Sutherland, chief executive of the Scottish Humanist Society, said they believed in bodily autonomy, including access to safe and legal abortion for women who do not wish to become pregnant.

“We created high school age-appropriate materials that explain humanist views on ethical issues like abortion, consistent with the RMPS curriculum,” she said.

“Despite our firm belief in a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, we have not (and never would) organize pro-abortion clubs for school-age children. Doing so would be inappropriate and would not respect the rights of young people.”

He said there was a “huge difference” between schools objectively presenting different views and repeatedly inviting groups that held anti-abortion views.

“And most importantly, not leaving room for children and young people to develop critical thinking skills and come to their own conclusions,” he added.

“We have serious concerns about SPUC’s repeated visits to schools in Scotland, its funding of anti-abortion clubs for primary school-age children and some educators’ vocal support for this group. We fully support the Lib Dems’ call on the local councils in Scotland involved in these allegations to provide further explanation.”