Sir Edward Leigh said the new curriculum must respect parents' rights

Parents must have the right to withdraw their children from relationships education, a Catholic MP has said.

Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, said that some would view new Government measures requiring relationships education to be taught to children as young as four as “a state takeover bid for parenting”.

Sir Edward has introduced an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill to allow parents of children receiving either relationships education or sex and relationships education to withdraw their children from the class.

The government has implied that parents will have an opt-out, but this is not yet legally binding.

Last month, the government announced plans to make sex and relationships education part of the national curriculum. Primary schools will only teach relationships education, but it is not clear what this term includes. The government will hold a consultation before deciding.

The charity Life warned that some pressure groups have proposed sexually explicit guidelines as part of relationships education. Its education director Anne Scanlan said: “We have heard of calls to teach masturbation to four year olds as part of sex education and leaflets telling primary school children that it is up to them to decide when to have sex.

Parents should be able to raise their children in accordance with their beliefs, he said. They already have the right to withdraw their children from sex education classes.

Under present legislation, sex education is compulsory in local-authority run schools but is limited to biology lessons.

Faith and free schools do not have to provide sex education under the current rulings, but will be obliged to do so under the new plans. Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, chairman of the Catholic Education Service, has said he looks forward to working with the government on the plans.

Sir Edward added: “If we respect the rights of parents over sex education, why trample all over their rights when it comes to relationship education? The State should not impose its values on parents.”

Fellow Conservative MP Julian Lewis expressed similar concerns about relationships education, asking: “What is there to prevent sex education aspects being smuggled in under that label?”