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'We need compulsory sex education to teach young people about sexual consent and respectful relationships'

(67 Posts)
RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 27-Jan-14 11:12:25

Hello

As some of you may have noticed, we're featured on the front page of the Times this morning because we've co-signed a letter supporting the compulsory teaching of SRE in all state-funded schools.

Some aspects of sex ed are part of the national curriculum, but you've told us in the past that you think sex and relationships education needs to be compulsory and cover many more areas than it currently does.

Here's the full text of the letter, for those without a Times log-in:

'Dear Sir/Madam,

Tomorrow [28 January], the House of Lords will consider a vital amendment to the Children & Families Bill which would make it compulsory for all state-funded schools in England to teach sex and relationships education (‘SRE’) including sexual consent and respectful relationships.

We are a group of parents, academics, teachers, lawyers, women’s groups and child safety experts who are calling on Peers across the benches to support this amendment as a critical child protection measure.

It is a sad fact that girls in the UK experience high levels of sexual and other abuse from boyfriends, friends and family members. One in three girls experiences ‘groping’ or other unwanted sexual touching at school and there are ongoing trials of men and boys for ‘grooming’ and sexual exploitation of vulnerable girls in towns and cities across the country. We are still lifting the lid on the scale of abuse of women and girls by Savile and others under Operation Yewtree.

Schools should be places where children feel safe and supported, and where they are helped to develop healthy and respectful attitudes and behaviours. Unfortunately this is not the case at present and we have seen a swathe of reports and cases highlighting how tackling abuse and exploitation is extremely patchy in our schools. This is woefully inadequate in an age of one-click-away violent and degrading pornography online that is becoming the default sex-educator for some young people.

The proposed amendment by Baroness Maggie Jones and Baroness Beverley Hughes would ensure that children are taught about sexual consent, and learn how to develop consensual and respectful relationships. In a sexualised and sexist culture, we are simply storing up problems for the future if we do not give young people this essential information.

There is already cross party consensus on the need to prevent violence against women and girls before it begins but very little action to achieve this. Compulsory sex and relationships education would be a vital first step on this road.

Letter signed by: Justine Roberts, Mumsnet; Polly Neate, Women’s Aid; Holly Dustin, End Violence Against Women Coalition; Professor Liz Kelly, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit; Marai Larasi, Imkaan; Laura Bates, Everyday Sexism; Lee Eggleston, Rape Crisis England and Wales; Professor Clare McGlynn, University of Durham; Dr Miranda Horvath, Middlesex University; Sandra Horley, Refuge; Carlene Firmin, MsUnderstood; Kristina Massey, Canterbury Christ University; Mia Scally, Middlesex University

IamGluezilla Mon 27-Jan-14 21:20:58

Is anyone likely to speak/vote against this?

HoratiaDrelincourt Mon 27-Jan-14 21:24:12

I imagine someone would say sex discussion should be purely biological hmm but I am glad MN has signed the letter and I hope it succeeds.

Cataline Mon 27-Jan-14 21:29:15

I teach SRE and go way beyond the national curriculum requirements as there is so much more our young people need to know.
We call it RSE too as the relationships part should always come first!

pointythings Tue 28-Jan-14 10:03:05

I have always thought it was mad that sex education wasn't compulsory in the UK. I remember that all the elements asked for in the letter above were part of the curriculum I went through in the Netherlands - we spent an entire term's worth of biology lessons on it, but it was definitely not just about biology. And that was in 1982.

Tansie Tue 28-Jan-14 11:51:22

Back in 1973 I went to a girls GS. In the first form (Y7) we were taught 'the biology' of sex, in Y2, more of the same with a bit of a discussion about relationships. By Y9 it was 'on for young and old' grin by which I mean we had lessons dedicated to rolling condoms onto bananas(!); what a respectful relationship meant; how and when to say no; how to handle the possible 'rejection' when we said 'No'; the social aspects of under-age pregnancy; the difficulties having an unplanned for DC could cause on into our futures etc etc. I think we were well prepared.

I have no idea whether the boys GS were taught the same!- But I genuinely believe it helped us form more consensual relationships with boys; the majority of boys we hung around with knew not to 'push it' and so forth. However, it's not to be overlooked that we were 1970s grammar school girls; girls who were expected and expected to go to university, who saw teenage pregnancy as an undesirable, ambition limiting thing and yes, it being the '70s in a MC market town, maybe did look down our noses at the girls we knew aged 16-17 who were 'doing it' grin!

Anyway, the fact remains that it stuns me that here we are in the 2010s with, if anything, less education than ever before, so I think it's great what you're hoping to achieve.

flatpackhamster Tue 28-Jan-14 12:08:07

IamGluezilla

Is anyone likely to speak/vote against this?

I can think of a couple of reasons straight away. The first is the idea that the state has any place in defining what is an appropriate or suitable relationship. The second is the idea that teachers can offer the kind of guidance which Mumsnet thinks is required, given the currently lamentable quality of sex ed at present.

MumofDockgreen Tue 28-Jan-14 12:25:01

I am a Safer School Police Officer that will be talking to girls and boys re abusive relationship, teenage DV and girls feeling under pressure to give consent to sex but regretting this later. Also sexting & the bullyingfrom girls and boys. This will be done around the beginning of Feb.
CAN YOU HELP? I would like to do this in the most interesting and reasonable way possible. Wow! I know this is a madcap thing to ask Mumnetters as we have such a variety of views and opinions.
The reason I have to do this is that I sadly have to investigate a number of crimes relating to this issue which is crushing to a teenager and their parents.
Any sensible advice for good cartoons and presentations online that I can use is really welcomed. I have very limited time to plan these lessons. So please send me off into the right direction.
Now I have put that request out.... I have to go on duty and cannot reply or join in the discussion until tonight. thanks

pointythings Tue 28-Jan-14 12:45:47

flatpack I think we can at least agree on what really inappropriate relationships are - as in the flat-out abusive ones where there is exploitation.

For the rest of it, I think there is a balance to be struck. The problem with trying to limit the role of the state is that you are then leaving everything to parents - and there are too many parents out there who won't talk to their children about sex. That does these children no favours at all.

Sex ed most definitely does need to improve in terms of its content and how teachers are trained in delivering it.

Custardo Tue 28-Jan-14 12:56:28

needs to be done by a qualified professional, lumping yet another part of what should be a parenting role onto schools is not enough.

if this goes in - what does it take the place of - we can't keep adding things for teachers to teach and not think of the workload that this impacts

for almost every issue out there in the public consciousness someone shouts - " they should teach it at school" but there isn't time to teach everything that needs to be taught, nor is it the place of school to teach everything. ( I am thinking healthy eating in a time when many children can't even read when they leave school)

what would be a better approach would be to reinforce these teachings and underline what is taught at school by providing support to parents to have these conversations at home.

I am absolutely sick to death ( and I don't know how teachers feel on this matter) of government policy being directed through schools as the most expedient way and cost effective way of dealing with things en masse. the lunch box monitor thing drives me crazy

how will this work in practice - once a year the class receives an age appropriate chat?

is that enough to change prevalent misogyny and abuse in society?

no. this needs a parents input

resources to parents please mumsnet, we don't get a handbook, some don't get great role models to learn from, so please consider lobbying for some resources /classes for parents on a wide rage of issues

morethanpotatoprints Tue 28-Jan-14 13:03:32

I don't think it should be compulsory because some parents wish to do this themselves and see it as their role.
My dd isn't in school but when she was I would have wanted the option tbh.

HoratiaDrelincourt Tue 28-Jan-14 14:06:05

The issue is that some parents are crap, so their children don't learn. And unlike, say, healthy eating, that ignorance puts other children at risk.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 28-Jan-14 14:09:29

I know some parents are crap but if the subject is offered in schools and is optional who is to say that all the crap parents would opt out anyway.
I don't see how the wishes of the good parents should be over looked because of a crap parent.

HoratiaDrelincourt Tue 28-Jan-14 14:18:55

That's why the campaign is for compulsion.

HoratiaDrelincourt Tue 28-Jan-14 14:19:41

That is, parents who want to go beyond the curriculum still could, but no schooled child would avoid the basics.

lainiekazan Tue 28-Jan-14 14:25:07

Like Tansie, I went to a 70s/80s girls' grammar school. Unlike Tansie, my sex education consisted of the RE teacher delving in her tartan shopping bag and quickly waving around a few contraceptive devices. And this was in the sixth form. Talk about shutting the stable door!

Hmmm, I'm a bit dubious about schools' delivery of sex education. There can be too much emphasis on "here's how to do it" rather than "here's how to say "no"" or how to fend off unwelcome advances or indeed how not to make them.

Also it is so difficult to reach kids at the right time. At primary school in year 6 there was a massive gulf between August boys and September girls. Yet they were all sitting in the same sex education lesson, with dire warnings not to giggle. Also, the amount of "activity" differs by (ahem) area. There is an extremely high teenage pregnancy rate in the neighbouring town whereas it's unheard of here.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 28-Jan-14 14:27:47

I know Horatio
That's my opinion as to why it shouldn't be compulsory.
Offering it is a step in the right direction, children aren't in so much danger now, with nothing being offered.
I'm so glad my dd won't receive any compulsory lessons in subjects that should be taught by parents. Teachers barely have time do deliver the curriculum let alone all the extra things like this.
I agree, that maybe parenting classes would be a better idea.

pointythings Tue 28-Jan-14 15:26:08

That's exactly it, Horatia. I don't see the problem with it.

Custardo, countries like the Netherlands and Sweden have been getting it right for decades - why can't the UK take a leaf out of their book? Teachers seem to handle it perfectly well over there.

pointythings Tue 28-Jan-14 15:30:08

potatoprints in an ideal world, all parents would equip their children for life in the world and teach them what they need to know. Unfortunately the world is full of parents who can't, or won't - utterly dysfunctional families, families with extreme religious views and so on.

In the Netherlands there are still teenage pregnancies and babies are still abandoned by desperate young girls. The vast majority of these young girls tend to come from strict Muslim families, from families of the Staphorst (extreme fundamentalist Protestantism) type, or from dysfunctional and deprived families. These parents are clearly not doing their jobs. Some parents cannot be trusted.

Tansie Tue 28-Jan-14 16:43:51

I must add that I, too, get rather fed up about the amount of 'stuff' that isn't what I'd consider to be a teacher's job that gets shoved onto state schools. I recall that a while ago I got caught up in a debate about 'teeth-cleaning skills' as taught in infants school- but it wasn't a one off, or even maybe half a day dedicated to it, it was, I recall, an ongoing, day after day thing. My objection is to having my DC's time, well, wasted after that first initial input (the maybe half day session) when I consider that I send my DC to school to learn, yes, how to interact with others, but primarily to get a useful vocational, artistic, musical and/or academic education, not to spend hours of already packed curriculum time being compulsorily taught stuff that it's my job to teach just to make sure that the DC from sub-optimal backgrounds also get caught up in the net as otherwise it'd be ^ discriminatory^... hmm.

I do think there's a place for sex and relationship education but I would worry that the compulsory element would then naturally get measured, assessed, monitored, recorded, fed-back thus the whole thing could eat up loads of academic educational time, and be maybe be wasting the time of DC from stable, responsible, involved families who already teach their sons not to rape and their daughters to nurture their self-respect <simplification alert> but I know you'll understand what I mean- just to make sure the message 'got through' to more vulnerable DC.

You might argue that that's really selfish of me, but at the end of the day I don't see many people complaining that private schools who're exempt from the NC necessarily turn out irresponsible, abusive or necessarily sexually vulnerable young people, and they manage to also turn out a reasonable slew of good graded GCSEs.

I do agree that it's yet another societal failure being stuck onto schools to fix, along with everything else, thus creating the ability to blame schools when they just can't do everything for everybody..

flatpackhamster Tue 28-Jan-14 19:11:18

pointythings

flatpack I think we can at least agree on what really inappropriate relationships are - as in the flat-out abusive ones where there is exploitation.

If we can agree on that - and there is broad agreement - then surely there's no need for legislation to ensure that children are told. Everyone 'knows' - but people still end up in them, which suggests to me that those relationships are complicated and I don't see how you could 'educate' people to avoid them.

For the rest of it, I think there is a balance to be struck. The problem with trying to limit the role of the state is that you are then leaving everything to parents - and there are too many parents out there who won't talk to their children about sex. That does these children no favours at all.

There are parents who don't do that stuff. But there are parents who don't feed their children properly, who don't teach them to mind their manners, and a host of other things. The issue is - where does the state end and the individual begin? This legislation gives too much power to the government for me to be comfortable with it.

Sex ed most definitely does need to improve in terms of its content and how teachers are trained in delivering it.

I'm not convinced teachers should be doing it at all. I haven't met a teacher who liked doing sex ed. If you're going to have it done, have it done by external professionals.

HoratiaDrelincourt

The issue is that some parents are crap, so their children don't learn. And unlike, say, healthy eating, that ignorance puts other children at risk.

If the state is such a superior environment for child rearing why not simply remove the children from the parents? That would appear to be the logical conclusion of your argument.

HoratiaDrelincourt Tue 28-Jan-14 19:16:02

On the other hand, if it isn't worth teaching what parents won't, why do schools teach children not to be racist etc as well?

For me "what is rape" or "what is consent" is well defined by law, but not by society. That's where it's more like teaching about racism than forced institutionalisation of all newborns.

pointythings Tue 28-Jan-14 21:03:50

If the state is such a superior environment for child rearing why not simply remove the children from the parents? That would appear to be the logical conclusion of your argument

Sigh. Why do you have to turn everything into a zero sum argument, flatpack? Your premise seems to be state = bad, is that the case?

And
Tomorrow, the House of Lords will consider a vital amendment to the Children & Families Bill which would make it compulsory for all state-funded schools in England to teach sex and relationships education (‘SRE’) including sexual consent and respectful relationships

What could there possibly be in this that you could consider objectionable? Which part are you objecting to, the sexual consent part, the respectful relationships part? Or do you think it is OK that some children do not get any sex education at all? We'll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

MumofDockgreen Tue 28-Jan-14 21:06:44

Hmmm. Have returned from work and nothing really useful. Shame really. So haven't missed Mumsnet in the 2 years I've been full time.

flatpackhamster Wed 29-Jan-14 07:20:34

pointythings Tue 28-Jan-14 21:03:50

Sigh. Why do you have to turn everything into a zero sum argument, flatpack?

I was taking Horatia's argument - which is that some parents don't parent well - to its logical conclusion. If you want the state to stop crap parenting, then you've two choices. Firstly, you restrict who's allowed to have children through an exam. Secondly, you allow people to conceive but the state takes the children away and educates them.

Horatia's argument is that the state has the moral right to intervene. Mine is that the state is the servant of the people, not its master, and requiring schools to tell children what is acceptable relationship behaviour is less servant and more master.

Your premise seems to be state = bad, is that the case?

No, my premise is that the state is going to do a worse job of this than the parents.

What could there possibly be in this that you could consider objectionable? Which part are you objecting to, the sexual consent part, the respectful relationships part? Or do you think it is OK that some children do not get any sex education at all? We'll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

We will. I don't see the job of the education sector in the same way that you do. I see teachers' role as educators. I don't see their job as forming the social and moral structure of future society. It's an unfair burden to load upon them and it's unproven as a method of achieving its goal.

Aren't you also slightly wary of a group of self-appointed guardians of morality deciding what's an acceptable relationship? You seem to be easy with it because it's mumsnet and a group of feminists. But once you open the doors to this thing, who's to say that in 10 years' time it won't be a group of religious zealots?

HoratiaDrelincourt

On the other hand, if it isn't worth teaching what parents won't, why do schools teach children not to be racist etc as well?

That's a very good question. Why do they? Does that really need to be taught in school? And where's the objective evidence that such teaching actually achieves its goal?

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