The story isn’t good. The Ofsted survey on PSHE education was carried out in 50 schools throughout the country. Even if you allow for statistical variations, this means that an inordinate amount of young people aren’t receiving the sort of education that supports the development of healthy relationships now and in their future. Furthermore, there is the strongest implication that much of the knowledge-based learning is not transferring into safe behavioural changes.
This simply isn’t good enough, and it’s storing up all manner of excessively dangerous scenarios for the future.
In this post we want to concentrate on the sex and relationships (SRE) aspect of PSHEE – an integral part and one that children and young people persistently and consistently say that they are not happy with.
Our British society has an inconsistent, often unhealthy, unbalanced and frequently contradictory attitude towards sex and relationships. On one hand, we use overt sexuality to advertise products and promote television programmes and on the other we complain that there’s too much sexualisation of our children and our society. We allow, and in some cases buy, wholly inappropriate clothing for young girls whilst simultaneously refusing to talk about sexuality in a way that will keep them safe.
We encourage our children and young people to be literate, inquisitive and thoughtful, yet as soon as they ask questions about sex we frequently shy away from answering.
To illustrate some of these inconsistencies, let’s take a look at the headlines in the newspapers that hundreds of thousands of children will have seen today on their way to school.
“Teen victims of predator Hall” – Daily Mail
“Telly star’s sick sex attack on girl aged 9” – Daily Star
“Beast of BBC” – Daily Mirror
Every single mainstream newspaper today carries the story of the man who abused girls and young women. It’s not unusual for our newspapers to carry such headlines. So do we expect our children to suddenly lose the skill of reading, just to protect ourselves from awkward questions?
Sex and Relationships education is extremely important. It’s part of all of our lives whether we are sexually active or not. Unless we are complete hermits, we all have relationships – with parents, offspring, siblings, friends, partners and lovers, and there are fundamental virtues that are relevant to every relationship that we are in: respect, consideration, loyalty, honesty, truthfulness. We need to learn how to manage negative feelings and enable positive ones in whatever interaction we are having with others. We also need to learn how to respect, value and appreciate our own needs and wants, and how that impinges on or can be nurtured by other people.
This is an area of work that is largely ignored, and according to this survey, not prolific enough in secondary schools, and yet each and every one of us needs these skills for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. This knowledge, the acquisition of skills and the impact on behavioural change from what is learned is so important yet we relegate it to being “non-statutory”.
For their maths GCSE every child has to study simultaneous equations. In science, every child needs to learn the periodic tables. In history, according to the new national curriculum, every child has to learn about Clive of India. Whilst all of these might be important, are they ever going to be relevant to a child now and in the future on every day of their lives?
We feel that the significance of sex and relationships in our lives is so integral to living well that it should be given a far higher regard than it currently is. We feel that this should be done in a positive manner rather than giving children the false impression that we don’t place our sexuality as significantly important in our lives. Children and young people can sniff out this sort of hypocrisy very easily.
Having said all of that, we also need to be extremely mindful of the possibility that a significant minority of children are in sexually abusive situations, and we shy away from talking about sex because of our own ingrained discomfort with the subject. Meanwhile, these young children are suffering, oblivious to the legal situation and only relying on their instinct and fear that this sort of behaviour is wrong and abhorrent. We cannot ethically perpetuate this by our own apprehensions and awkwardness.
3Di Associates have over 20 years of experience in working in this area. We are currently looking for schools to pilot a programme of support that will enable teachers, governors and parents to be fully engaged in a sex and relationships programme that explores relationships and sex education with sensitivity, age-appropriateness and respect for all. If you would like further information or wish to be involved in this innovative project, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s finally get this vastly important area of learning and life right, once and for all. Let’s make sure the next Ofsted report has the headline title “SRE and PSHE Education: We finally got it!”
- Outcome of the PSHE Education Review (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- Many schools failing to give pupils adequate sex lessons, says Ofsted (guardian.co.uk)
- Sex education ‘not good enough’ (centrallobby.politicshome.com)
- Ofsted: teach about pornography in sex education lessons (telegraph.co.uk)
- Poor sex education is leaving kids vulnerable to exploitation, Ofsted report warns (mirror.co.uk)
- Age-appropriate sex education call (bbc.co.uk)