In The South

Young people and parents to be consulted on relationship and sex education guidelines

Besi Besemar December 19, 2017

Young people and parents to have their say on the content of new relationship and sex education guidelines.

Justine Greening MP
Justine Greening MP

The government is asking parents, teachers and young people to help shape a new relationships and sex education curriculum that will help them stay safe and face the challenges of the modern world.

The current statutory guidance for teaching Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) was introduced in 2000. It currently fails to address risks to children which have grown in prevalence in recent years, including online pornography, sexting and staying safe online.

The guidance is being updated after legislation was passed by Parliament earlier this year to make relationships education compulsory in all primary schools and relationships and sex education compulsory in all secondary schools.

As part of that process, an eight week call for evidence will invite views on age-appropriate content on mental wellbeing, staying safe online and LGBT issues in the updated subjects.

The move to make RSE compulsory was welcomed by the teaching profession and organisations such as Barnardo’s, Stonewall, the Catholic Education Service, NSPCC, Terrence Higgins Trust and the End Violence Against Women coalition.

Education Secretary Justine Greening, says: “It is unacceptable that Relationships and Sex Education guidance has not been updated for almost 20 years especially given the online risks, such as sexting and cyber bullying, our children and young people face. Young people must have an education that teaches them the importance of healthy and stable relationships. 

 “This call for evidence is about giving teachers, parents and especially young people a chance to help shape that new approach and I’d urge them to take part.”

Currently only pupils attending local-authority run secondary schools – which represent around a third of secondary schools – are guaranteed to be offered Sex and Relationship Education as currently delivered.

The ‘call for evidence’ aims to gather views from people across England from all backgrounds on the content of this subject.

It will look to establish: 

♦ What teachers think they should be teaching their pupils to help them navigate the modern world they are growing up in;

♦ How parents expect their children to be taught this topic in a safe and age-appropriate way; and

♦ What children themselves think they would benefit from understanding the most, and the online risks they are concerned with.

Ian Bauckham, who was awarded the CBE in 2017 for services to education, will lead this process. As well as starting a multi academy trust, he is head teacher of a large 11-18 Church of England comprehensive in Kent and, as a National Leader of Education (NLE), works with many other schools in the region and more widely.

Ian Bauckham CBE said: “I warmly welcome the government’s decision to seek views on these important topics. Since I started work as a teacher over thirty years ago, enormous changes have taken place both in the lives of young people and in the wider world in which we are preparing them to live. I hope that the call for evidence being launched now gives us the chance to find out about the best teaching and to improve provision for all our young people in all types of school”.

The teaching of this important subject in schools is supported by the wider public.

Recent surveys show that:

♦  91% of parents believe all pupils should receive lessons to teach them about the risks of sexting, as well as other issues such as contact from strangers online; and

♦ 74% of 11 – 15 years old believe that children would be safer if they had age appropriate classes on relationships and sex education.

Lisa Hallgarten, Policy Manager for Brook, says: “For more than 50 years Brook has been responding to the evolving sexual health and wellbeing needs of young people and we are delighted that Department for Education is seeking their voices to inform the new RSE guidance. Through our services in local communities, our education programmes and our participation work we have a very clear understanding of the unique challenges that young people face and what they need from their relationships and sex education. We thoroughly look forward to seeing a guidance that reflects this.”

Javed Khan
Javed Khan

Barnardo’s CEO Javed Khan, says: “Age-appropriate lessons on relationships and sex education, (RSE) combined with personal social and health education (PSHE) in all schools in England will help keep children safe and healthy.

“Both children and parents have told Barnardo’s that  these classes would help children better understand healthy relationships and the dangers in the real world and online.

“When we polled children they overwhelmingly told us that RSE lessons would be important for them to understand the dangers of being online so they can stay safe, and that they wanted to know the risks of sharing images of themselves with a stranger online.

“It’s important that the government listens to the voices of young people, parents and experts on what they want to see included in these lessons and who is best placed to teach them to equip children for modern life and help prevent them being groomed or sexually exploited.”

Evelyn, a member of Girlguiding’s Advocate Panel, says: “We are delighted that after years of campaigning for compulsory, high quality RSE, young people are now being given the opportunity to have their say about what should be included in the curriculum for schools in England. School pupils need an RSE curriculum which is up-to-date and tackles issues relevant to their lives. In 2015, our Girls’ Attitudes Survey found that less than half of girls aged 11-16 had learned about consent, healthy relationships or LGBTQ identities. In each of these cases, four in five girls said they thought they should learn about these topics. We have also repeatedly called for RSE to include teaching around online abuse, gender equality, and tackling violence against women and girls to help educate pupils about their choices and their rights; setting them up for a lifetime of healthy, fulfilling relationships.”

Ian Green
Ian Green

Ian Green, CEO, Terrence Higgins Trust, adds: “It’s vital that compulsory Relationships and Sex Education is up to date and inclusive, and we’re pleased to have been invited to feed into the Department for Education’s eight-week consultation to ensure that this happens.

“In order to help tackle high rates of STIs among young people and ensure that all young people have the information they need to make informed decisions about relationships, we must see a strong emphasis on neglected topics such as sexual health and LGBT inclusion in this guidance. It’s vital that young people are at the heart of this initial consultation to ensure this is done right.”

Deborah Gold
Deborah Gold

Deborah Gold, CEO of NAT (National AIDS Trust) says: “Making RSE compulsory for schools was an important first step. It’s now critical that the content of those lessons is right and meets the needs of all young people. This is a vital opportunity to hear the voices of those who are often excluded from the content of RSE at school. Three quarters of young gay and bisexual men report never being taught to about same sex relationships in school, and three in five did not know that they should be testing for HIV annually. Further, there is currently no requirement to teach children about gender variance. These exclusions have a direct impact on young people’s health, wellbeing and empowerment as they embark on relationships now and in the future. It’s time to set this right.” 

Ruth Hunt
Ruth Hunt

Ruth Hunt, CEO at Stonewall, concluded: “We’re pleased to see the government taking steps to ensure lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, and the issues they face, are included in relationship and sex education.

“The current guidance, published 17 years ago, contains no mention of LGBT people. Schools that teach LGBT-inclusive RSE are in the minority, leaving many LGBT young people without the information they need to make safe, informed decisions. Just 13 per cent of LGBT young people have learnt about healthy same-sex relationships.

“In schools where pupils receive an inclusive education, LGBT pupils are less likely to experience bullying. They are also more likely to report feeling safe, welcome and happy at school.

“We’ve been approached by many teachers who want to deliver inclusive education, but lack the confidence or knowledge to do so. We would encourage all pupils, teachers and parents to have their say to ensure schools offer a curriculum that serves all young people.”