With Sex and Relationships education (SRE), we often seem to take one step forward and two steps back, and still there’s confusion and a gross inconsistency in what children and young people are taught.
According to the PSHE Association, the Sex Education Forum and a July 2105 Parliamentary Briefing Paper by Robert Long, state maintained schools (i.e. local authority maintained schools) are “obliged to teach SRE from age 11 upwards”. Academies and free schools “do not have to follow the National Curriculum and are so not under this obligation”.
The National Curriculum document says [Section 2.3],
“All state schools are also required to make a provision for a daily act of collective worship and must teach religious education to all pupils and sex and relationships education to pupils in secondary schools”.
So, SRE is non-statutory but must be taught by all state schools, apart from those state schools that are allowed to reject the National Curriculum. As there are far more secondary Academies than local authority maintained schools, this effectively means that a large majority of young people aren’t statutorily entitled to Sex and Relationship Education.
Furthermore, young people can opt out of any aspect of SRE that isn’t on the science National Curriculum, i.e. the relationships component. Their parents can also choose to withdraw their child from these lessons too.
You have every right to be.
The situation becomes even more bizarre when you click on the links within the briefing paper.
“Local authority maintained schools in England are obliged to teach sex and relationships education (SRE) from age 11 upwards, and must have regard to the Government’s SRE guidance”.
Click on the link and you are led to an excellent document, written in July 2000.
That’s right, 2000 – a time before most children had smart phones, before cyberbullying was heard of, before the Serious Case Review into errors in Children’s Services relating to (Baby) Peter Connelly, before the Equalities Act of 2010, before Every Child Matters, before civil partnerships and gay marriages were introduced, and so on and so forth.
And still the government doesn’t think it’s time to legislate for changes to their “guidance”.
Admittedly, they refer to the superb guidance “Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century” which the government said “performed this function” of updating, even though they refused to make it a statutory document.
This is a ludicrous situation exacerbated by the government’s reluctance to make PSHE or SRE statutory and by the fact that Ofsted are now inspecting on “Personal Development, behaviour and welfare”. Surely the teaching and learning in PSHE/SRE is a major part of “Personal Development”.
Meanwhile, we have almost daily broadcasts of horrendous cases in situations where decades of quality and statutory PSHE and SRE could have made a difference.
One step forward and two steps back.
Last week, it was reported that the actor Charlie Sheen was HIV positive. Little could he know that this disclosure would impact so enormously on the lives of those with HIV – and those who don’t suffer from this immunity deficiency, by reminding the world that this illness still exists.
What particularly saddens us is that excellent work on HIV prevention took place over 15 years ago, jointly funded by local education authorities and primary care trusts, yet we are confronted today with an acute sense of ignorance about HIV that wouldn’t exist had there been a governmental commitment to continuing this work and making SRE statutory.
An article in the Guardian reiterates this point.
The opening paragraph says,
“Leo found out he was HIV positive when he was 12. A few months later, in a personal, social and health education lesson, the teacher was discussing HIV and Aids: “And some of the pupils were joking around, and the teacher said: ‘Guys, it’s not funny! If you have HIV, you don’t have long to live. If you have HIV, you’re going to die.’”
Another pupil tells another damning tale.
“We were in a science lesson and the teacher was asked, how is the HIV virus passed on? And the teacher said, you can get it from kissing someone. And I knew, of course, that this wasn’t true, but I wasn’t able to put the teacher right because how could I have explained how I knew without disclosing my own HIV status, which it wouldn’t have been appropriate to do?”
This accentuates the vital need for teachers to be properly trained in the teaching of SRE and PSHE, including work on HIV. This should be happening at Initial Teacher Training as well as through CPD but because these subjects don’t tick the attainment box directly, they’re demoted in importance.
We don’t want any child, let alone a child who’s HIV positive, to have to endure such misguided and misinformed lessons. Neither do we want teachers to be placed in a situation where they feel, in accordance with the National Curriculum, “obliged to teach” these subjects without proper training from specialised advisors.
This week there’s also been a call from the Children’s Commissioner to train teachers to identify signs of child sexual abuse as well as a plea for all children from the age of 5 to learn about healthy and safe relationships.
Ann Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England says,
“Most schools at the moment do provide some element of lessons for life, or PSHE. It is not compulsory at the moment and it’s delivered in a very inconsistent way. . . . . . . This is about building confidence with children from the age of 5 upwards in terms of their healthy relationships and their understanding, but really looking at these issues as they move towards adolescence, too. . . . . I would like to see it compulsory in all schools, but very much looking at age-appropriateness, and looking and being led by children’s needs themselves”.
This isn’t the first time the Children’s Commissioner has called for statutory PSHE and SRE – and still this significant voice is ignored by policy makers.
Recommendation 4 says,
“The Commissioner recommends that all schools equip all children, through compulsory lessons for life, to understand healthy and safe relationships and to talk to an appropriate adult if they are worried about abuse.”
Recommendation 6 says,
“The Commissioner recommends that all teachers in all schools are trained and supported to understand the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. This should be part of initial teacher training and ongoing professional development, with the latter requirement reflected in the statutory guidance on Keeping Children Safe in Education.”
We couldn’t’ agree more.
[For more on the Children’s Commissioner’s “Protecting children from harm” report –
This is all about entitlement, and as the National Curriculum says in Section 2.1,
“Every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly based and which:
promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society
prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life”
Without statutory SRE and PSHE, how can this be?
To conclude, please encourage young people to take part in the Sex Education Forum’s survey on SRE. This is for 11-25 year olds with those under 16 requiring consent from parents and carers.