Schools OUT UK released a press release today demanding teachers be trained to deliver new inclusive Sex and Relationships (SRE) Curriculum. In response to The Department for Education’s consultation on the new plans, CEO Tony Fenwick wrote:
“We expect a history teacher to have a degree in history and a science teacher to have a degree in at least one of the sciences. But most teachers know no more about sex and relationships that anyone else in the community. There is no mandatory training and little is provided. This must be addressed immediately”.
Tony added that all types of sexual activity should be taught and that sex education needs to start at primary school.
Sex and Relationships Education
People often only hear the word sex and they need to remember that education is about relationships too. Love and relationships one of the most important things in our lives and it is crucial to our health and wellbeing to be surrounded by people we love and about whom we care. Many people are in unfulfilling, dysfunctional and even abusive relationships and one can’t help wondering if the paucity and poor quality of SRE up till now is largely responsible.
In the light of this, we at Schools OUT UK welcome the overdue review of Sex and Relationships Education and the commitment to making it mandatory in schools and inclusive of LGBT+ people. We also welcome the public consultation announced on Wednesday. We very much hope to be a part of the consultation. Our position is set out below.
It is essential to assert the moral equivalence of same sex and opposite sex partnerships and relationships – as well as other relationships involving intersex or non-binary/agender people. Everyone has a right to be straight, cis, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, agender, gender non-conforming, pansexual, asexual and sexually fluid. Prejudice must be persistently challenged. Ensuring the above will help us avoid crass and dubious statements about ‘promoting’ a particular sexuality.
Begin with an ethical standpoint based on the rule of 3: relationships need to be based on: mutual consent; respect; and fulfilment.
We expect a history teacher to have a degree in history and a science teacher to have a degree in at least one of the sciences. But most teachers know no more about sex and relationships that anyone else in the community. There is no mandatory training and little is provided. This must be addressed immediately.
The Sex Education Forum need to be empowered and resourced to provide teacher training in SRE without delay; as must other verified stakeholders, so that no teacher goes into and SRE lesson without training. Schools, parents and the pupils themselves need to know they are receiving good quality factual education, so lesson content must be monitored. Teachers must feel confident that they understand their subject.
Start at Primary; with the diversity of relationships. Some children will have LGBT+ people in their families and have first-hand knowledge of the diversity of relationships. Others may recognise LGBT+ people from soaps or family conversations. Others may have no knowledge of LGBT+ people at all. Those who insist that SRE should not begin until they attend secondary school need to be reminded that silence leaves children more vulnerable to abuse.
At primary pupils also need knowledge of the onset of puberty and what will happen during menstruation. They need to have respect for their bodies and other people’s. They need to know about appropriate and inappropriate touching. ‘It’s my body and it’s my right to control it’ should be a mantra. It includes the right to abstain, say no and report abuse.
At secondary level, students need to learn about their bodies and how they work, and other people’s bodies and how they work. First they need to learn to love and respect their bodies and not to think of their genitalia as something ‘dirty’.
SRE provides schools with an opportunity to challenge the modern trend for body fascism and body dysphoria and its negative effects on wellbeing: eating disorders; anxiety; low self-esteem; bullying; self-harm etc.
Teach anatomy (esp. female anatomy); erogenous zones; the value of foreplay and how to do good sex rather than suffer bad. Make it clear to them that consensual good quality sex is fun and it’s physically and emotionally good for you. Promote safer forms of sex for good health and the avoidance of STDs, pregnancy and abortion etc. Make safe sex look and sound attractive with positive Images rather than stuffy textbooks with terse print.
By detailing all sexual practices – including sensitive subjects such as fisting – we are ensuring there are no nasty surprises later in life for students. There is a balance to be drawn here between (not) making judgements and ensuring that students are aware of the mental and physical implications – both short term and long term – of some practices.
It is important to uncouple sexual practice from sexual orientation (e.g. the association of vibrators with lesbians or anal sex with gay men), as such assumptions are ignorant and may encourage stereotyping and prejudice. In fact it is a good idea to distinguish between sexuality and sexual orientation. Sexuality is what people find arousing whereas sexual orientation is whom people are attracted to. So if you like having your earlobes nibbled that is part of your sexuality rather than your sexual orientation.
Of course students need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities in sex and relationships; probably more so than in any other aspect of their lives. It is essential that students are aware of the laws of the land regarding sexual offences so they can protect themselves and recognise when the law is being broken, either by them or by a third party.
Shame and guilt about sex can be very negative and it discourages people from disclosing abuse where it occurs. So students must be equipped to recognise exploitation by older people and peers. Teachers must be straight up about sexual abuse in all its forms and raise awareness of the methods sex abusers commonly use to entrap their victims as well as their victims’ families and professionals.
At time of writing, sexual harassment and sexual abuse in Hollywood, the White House, the Senate, the House of Commons and the British theatre are making the headlines. Meanwhile we are becoming aware of an upsurge in sexual harassment and abuse in schools. We believe the two are related.
There are clearly institutions – many highly respected – where there is an expectation of sexual exploitation that has gone unreported for a long time. Some of the abusers will be seen as role models for our youth.
Coupled with the increasing use of pornography and abuse of social media (see below) there is an increasing tendency to use sexual abuse and harassment as an instrument of power which some people still perceive as legitimate.
This needs to be addressed in SRE. Institutional sexual harassment and worse is an abuse of power and needs to be reported and the harassers and abusers dealt with.
Social media can be informative and educative and it’s a recognised means of socialising. But it’s fraught with dangers: from cyber bullying; exploitation through social websites; sexting etc. Explicitly teach how to be safe online and what to do when something is wrong.
Make sure pupils are aware of the legal implications of sexting. A lifetime on the sex offenders’ register is not a good start to a young person’s career.
Ensure that pupils understand that: pornography is addictive and ultimately unfulfilling; participants in porn must be over 18 and if they are not, it is recorded sex abuse; anyone who watches such abuse is criminalised as well as the makers and participants.
The dictionary definition of pornography states that all participants must be consenting. In reality a lot of porn includes people engaging in practices that are unsafe and/or abusive and this suggests they may have not consented. Some participants are likely to be trafficked slaves.
Students also need to know that, even in legal pornography, the actors are not in real relationships with their partners. They are carrying out acts that they have contractually agreed to perform.
The law on prostitution is a subject of debate. The teaching unions maintain that criminalising prostitution, or at least soliciting should continue and refuses to adopt the term ‘sex workers’. Unite the Union and GMB however use the term and accept sex workers as members. They argue that criminalising prostitution increases the likelihood of abuse, violence and murder.
Most sex workers are acting out of economic necessity. Many will be trafficked slaves and have their money taken from them.
The issue of prostitution is one that should be raised in schools and the above would make a good topic for discussion at KS4.
Curriculum and Assessment
Students must have regular timetabled lessons with assessable objectives so that pupils are confident that they are prepared for the adult world that awaits them and schools are confident that the job has been done. Equality Impact Assessments will ensure sustainability and improvement.
Further help and Advice
Pupils need to be aware of where to go for help and advice or further resources at a national and local level. We would expect this to happen anyway through PSCHE.
Straight and cis people will generally have better access to information from the NHS and their GP that LGBT+ people, simply because there are more of them coming through the doors. There is a hierarchy of information and support from the NHS with very little for lesbian and even less for trans people. This should be considered when schools are gathering information
STDs change form and new ones come and go. Medication and anti-viral treatments and inhibitors are being developed – particularly prep and pre-prep at the moment. Laws change and so do social mores. Young people are always finding ways to dupe adults and finding a language of their own to shut adult authority out. And they are ahead of the game when it comes to the use and abuse of social media. So it is essential that the SRE curriculum and its delivery are constantly under review at national and local level. We cannot afford to be disseminating out-of-date information.
Opting out of SRE lessons
We would like SRE lessons to be compulsory for all pupils and the opt out for parents with particular religious sensibilities to be removed. However we accept that the religious lobby is a powerful pressure group which governments of any hue will be reluctant to challenge in the near future. Peter Tatchell suggests adapting the law to state that pupil can only be removed if the parent/guardian comes to the schools and escorts them off the premises. He stated that this was tried in two schools in Northern Ireland and no parent chose the opt out clause. Maybe this would be a good compromise.
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