Juno Dawson: We need to talk about sex… education

As an award-winning author of young adult fiction and non-fiction, one would imagine that Juno Dawson, 32, has a pretty good idea about what teenagers get up to. And she does – not just thanks to the research that goes into her books them, but because before becoming a full-time writer, she was a teacher. iNews reports.

“As a teacher, one of my areas of speciality and interest was in PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education). I became a PSHE co-ordinator, and during that first year I did some work with Brighton and Hove Council putting together a scheme of work for sex and relationships education. I taught Year Six of primary school – the last year before secondary school. That’s the year in which, at that particular school, sex education was taught.”

What she particularly relished, professionally, was the “enrichment week” she ran each year to give pupils a break after Sats revision. “I had some pretty rowdy classes, but you could have heard a pin drop in those lessons.” How did she manage that? “Just scream ‘sex’ if you want the attention of a class of 11-year-olds,” she says wryly.

“They’d heard things. As they got a bit older, kids started coming to school with smartphones – they’d seen things as well. So a colleague and I came up with a scheme of work that was completely based around what the children already knew. At the beginning of the week, we’d establish what it was that young people already knew. We had an anonymous box, and said: ‘This is your week of PSHE, what would you like to know by the end of the week?’ I made sure that everyone put something in the box, even if it was just a scrap of paper that said ‘I don’t have a question’, so that nobody felt ashamed to put something in the box. Then I planned the rest of the week around answering those questions.

“By 10 and 11 years old, most children knew that you needed an egg and a sperm to naturally conceive a baby. However, nobody had thought to tell these young people that sex was pleasurable or that it could be making love, not necessarily sex. What they always asked, in different ways, was ‘Why do people have sex if they don’t want a baby?’ That unearthed a really fundamental issue with the way that we teach SRE (Sex and Relationships Education). We’re not really giving them the whole story.”

“The best thing that I think parents can do is to apply pressure to schools. PSHE and SRE still aren’t mandatory on the national curriculum, which means that some schools are doing it very badly,” she says. “Parents need to be asking questions not of their children, but of their children’s schools. If I was a parent of a teenager, I would be asking: ‘What are they doing in PHSE? How many hours a week are given over to this subject? Is it a 20-minute bolt-on a Friday afternoon or are they doing enrichment weeks? Who teaches the sex education? Is it a classroom teacher? Or a specialist PSHE teacher?’ These are all really important questions.”

Read the full article Juno Dawson: We need to talk about sex… education 

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