As Chief Executive of a charity committed to the idea that education is about preparation for life, not just preparation for exams, I was delighted when OBR-UK chose guaranteeing sex and relationships education (SRE) for every school pupil as its main campaign priority. Yet even as this proposal was being debated in the House of Commons on the 14th of February, the Department for Education was consulting on changes to the national curriculum which, if not challenged, could move SRE backwards for pupils across the country.
High‐quality teaching should be a first line of defence against abuse of children and young people. Even if a pupil is experiencing aggressive or unbalanced relationships outside school, inside they should receive a clear message: ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’. In particular, lessons can be used to provide support for pupils experiencing abuse, helping them to believe that what they are experiencing is unacceptable and that it is not their fault; to believe they have a right for it to stop and that it can stop; and to find a strategy and the confidence to initiate the action needed to make it stop.
For this to happen, children must first have a basic understanding of human biology and the language to describe what is happening; it is only right that this information should be taught in science lessons. But the new science curriculum which the Government is proposing omits any reference to genitalia and sexual health. Without this basic teaching, lessons on how children can respond to sexual abuse and violence will be severely undermined.
These changes risk making a situation which is already completely unsatisfactory even worse: a 2011 Brook survey showed that 26% of secondary school pupils reported receiving no sex and relationships education at all, while just 6% said they got the information they needed in SRE. And we know that even since 2011, many schools have reduced their provision in the face of tight budgets and competing priorities. We need to move forwards from this position, not go backwards.
That’s why we are working with partners across the youth, education and health sectors to campaign for SRE fit for the 21st century and encouraging supporters of OBR-UK to sign up too. Teachers need clear, unambiguous advice on SRE from Government; we fail those teachers and, more importantly their pupils, if this is not provided.
Chief Executive, PSHE Association