Almost a year ago, we wrote a post about sex and relationships education (SRE) titled “Let’s be Clear about SRE”.
At the time, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, had expressed his support for updating the SRE guidance – a document that was written fourteen years ago. Simultaneously the Prime Minister was rightly raising concerns about children’s access to inappropriate images on the internet. His solution was to increase censorship. Not once in his speech did he mention the importance and value of SRE.
For those who may have missed it, the SRE guidance has been updated with a supplementary advice: not by the Department of Education but by professionals with vast experience of teaching and learning in SRE. We sincerely hope that one day this excellent document will be embraced officially, ensuring that all children and young people receive the quality of SRE to which they’re entitled.
Moving on to this week and we had another statement from the Liberal Democrats regarding SRE. David Laws, the education minister, announced that all schools, including the currently exempt academies and free schools, should have to teach sex and relationships education – from the age of seven, and this was going to be a “manifesto commitment”. He also said that SRE should be part of a PSHE programme of work – a curriculum for life.
Good news indeed. Or partly. It’s certainly heading in the right direction.
However, like many who have experience of working in this field of education, we would advocate relationships education throughout a child’s time in statutory education, which means that SRE should be mandatory as soon as a child enters school, not starting all of a sudden at the age of seven. And before any Daily Mailesque cries of “too much too soon” come hurtling through the ether, we’re not suggesting that five year olds have demonstrations on how to make babies.
What we are suggesting is that the practice seen in good Early Years and Foundation Stage schools and departments should continue with the nurturing and teaching of social and emotional skills, and that this work should continue into Key Stage One, focusing on the importance and value of relationships and friendships.
What we are suggesting is that young children have a right to know about sex and relationships, and have a right to know what constitutes positive relationships and what doesn’t.
For on the same day as David Laws announced his party’s manifesto pledge, there was an announcement that a possible 1400 children had been sexually abused in Rotherham.
The irony is sickening.
For sixteen years, young people in Rotherham have been severely sexually abused – let down by local and national governments who are supposed to be there to protect them. Instead we’ve had dilly and dallying over this essential part of the curriculum – largely fuelled by a misinterpretation of what SRE actually is and what it’s trying to achieve – i.e. inform children and young people about their rights, their responsibilities and the way to develop and maintain positive relationships.
Just suppose that SRE had been compulsory for all this time. Just suppose that teachers and teaching assistants in Rotherham and nationally had all received quality training in SRE. Just suppose that some of the victims of these heinous crimes had learned in their SRE lessons about inappropriate touches, or how to tell an adult that another so-called “trusted” adult was doing things to them that made them feel uncomfortable or abused – or raped.
Meanwhile, because our politicians have control over the content of what must be taught in schools and because they’re frightened of upsetting the floating voters of “Middle England” (in our view erroneously so), they’ve all refused to prioritise SRE and give it its rightful place in a statutory curriculum.
It’s not good enough to say that PSHE and SRE “should” be taught. The word they ought to be using is “MUST”.
In the Guardian extract above, a spokesperson for the Labour Party said, “We proposed this a year ago . . . The Lib Dems have been dragging their feet.”
We’re very pleased that the Labour Party has also suggested that statutory PSHE and SRE may well be in their election manifesto but we also have to point out that they had 13 years to implement such a change, and they too refused to do so. Telling the Liberal Democrats that they are “dragging their feet” is therefore a little disingenuous.
The Tories, with their Govesque mantra – even though the man has left the department – said that it should be up to the schools to implement SRE, and that government shouldn’t be telling them what to teach!
Oh the irony – again!
Mr Gove, at the Wellington Festival of Education this year, reiterated that all schools had statutory SRE (NB excluding academies and free schools) and that if anyone knew of any school that wasn’t teaching SRE effectively he’d like to know about it. Well, Mr Gove has gone but as SRE is neither compulsory nor reflected in a school’s Ofsted grading, then it is all too frequently ignored – and it’s our children and young people who are suffering the consequences.
The cases in Rotherham are horrific. We’re not naïve enough to think that this could have been completely prevented by SRE but we do strongly believe that a decent sex and relationships education might have prevented some of the abuse and also enabled young, manipulated children to come forward to voice their concerns and disclose their abhorrent experiences.
SRE should be compulsory for the safety element alone but the reason we are so passionate about SRE is that there is a far more positive side to the story.
Good SRE should have “relationships” firmly at the front. Good SRE supports young people to develop respect, consideration and kindness in all of their relationships – and not just the sexual ones later in life.
In the light of yet another sexual abuse scandal, we implore people to consider this important aspect of education and join the campaign to make it statutory.
The Sex Education Forum is currently running a campaign “Sex and Relationships Education: It’s My Right”.
If you have been affected by what you’ve heard this week about the cases in Rotherham and if, like us, you believe in the importance and value of caring, intelligent relationships and friendships, then please consider writing to your MP today.
If any school would like some training on how to teach SRE, then please get in touch with us. As a starting point, you may like to read our previous posts on the importance of SRE.
More from our archive. Some posts we’ve written on the subject of SRE