Libby Brooks says sex education in our schools is shockingly inadequate, hit hard by cuts even though its benefits are proven. This is from the Guardian…
Last autumn, when Labour’s formidable MP Stella Creasy was kickstarting the British chapter of One Billion Rising – the global campaign to end violence against women and girls – she held a series of events across the country to discover what people most wanted to raise hell about. I attended one in London and, after I’d got over myself about having to stick coloured dots on a whiteboard – and the seeming impossibility of reaching accord on a span as broad as what every woman has ever felt angry about in her lifetime – agreement coalesced – as it did eventually at most events – around one thing: the need for better sex education for girls and boys in our schools.
And so on 14 February – One Billion Rising’s designated day of international action – a cross-party group of MPs, including Creasy and the Conservative Amber Rudd, has secured parliamentary time to debate and vote on making “personal, social and health education (PSHE) a requirement in schools, including a zero-tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships”. Because sex education, need it be restated, is not just education about sex.
It’s unlikely that such a worthy motion will be whipped against, although Michael Gove has made it clear that he’s not interested in sex and relationships education (SRE) – allegedly because he has no intention of telling schools what to teach, though this laissez-faire evaporates when it comes to Latin. But that doesn’t mean the debate will go beyond a cosy consensus that something really must be done, especially given parliament’s unedifying record on the subject.
In 2010 the Labour government shamefully left statutory SRE provision to the pre-election legislative wash-up. The move was scuppered. A window of opportunity opened in 2011 with the Department for Education’s review of PSHE, but more than a year later the results have yet to surface. In the interim, the occasional Tory maverick has floated their reactionary peccadillo, be that Nadine Dorries’s 10-minute rule bill requiring schools to provide teenage girls with abstinence-based education, or Andrea Leadsom’s scheme to have SRE resources age-classified like films.
Today, even if sex education was made statutory the move wouldn’t be wholly effective, since academies and free schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum anyway. Likewise, the neo-Victorian legal right for parents to opt children out of SRE, and indeed for governors to opt schools out, remains untouched.
This is compounded by what those in the sector describe as a growing crisis over who is actually capable of teaching sex education. Even if they are not put off by its status as a sink subject, teachers delivering SRE need training and support as well as curriculum time, the sort of substantial investment that most schools won’t or can’t prioritise. Cuts to local services mean that experienced educators are losing their jobs or having their outreach time cut, and the increasing reliance on payment by results means there’s little incentive to go into schools.
As a consequence, sex education in British schools is shockingly inadequate. One in four pupils receive none – while a quarter of those who do, say they don’t think it is taught well enough. A report published today by Education for Choice found that in some schools pro-life groups have been invited to talk to young people about contraception and abortion. And young people consistently report that SRE is too much about sexually transmitted infections (STI) and saying no, and not enough about feelings and relationships. It’s an ongoing poverty of provision that is beyond baffling, when we know that evidence-based, relationship-focused, age-appropriate teaching, delivered by specialised staff, has been proven by decades of research to reduce teenage pregnancy and STI rates while developing young people’s confidence to say no as well as yes – and to access the services they need when they need them.
More at: Sex education is in crisis