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Sex & relationships education in schools (England & Wales) - tell the Government what you think....

(60 Posts)
MylinhMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 20-Mar-13 15:35:01


Do you agree with how and when sex and relationships education (SRE) is taught in schools, and - if not - what do you think can be done to improve it? We've been asked by The Sex Education Forum (SEF) to draw your attention to the current Government consultation on the National Curriculum.

The SEF says that the proposals in this consultation make no change to the status of SRE or PSHE in schools in terms of support or funding.

In fact the SEF says a closer look at the proposed curriculum reveals that the names for external genitalia have been omitted from the list of body parts taught to children at Key Stage 1; that the term 'puberty' has been left out of both primary and secondary school curricula (and only referenced in the phrase "growing into adults"); and that the terms 'adolescence', 'foetal development', 'fertilisation' and 'sexual health' have been removed from the Key Stage 3 curriculum entirely, and replaced with "the effect of drugs on behaviour, health and life processes" and "the structure and function of male and female reproductive organs" without details of hormones. This in effect, argues the SEF, delays the teaching of contraception until Key Stage 4 when pupils are 14-16.

What are your thoughts on the proposed changes to SRE teaching in schools? Is 14-16 too late to introduce the teaching of contraception? What about omitting the integral stages of 'puberty' and 'adolescence' from science terminology in schools?

One in 3 young people says their SRE is "poor" or "very poor" (Sex Education Forum, 2008), and around one in four young people says they don't get any SRE in school at all; of those that do, around a quarter (26%) say their SRE teacher isn't able to teach it well (Brook survey 2011). A Mumsnet survey in 2011 told us that a very high proportion of parents (98%) are happy for their children to attend SRE lessons and that 89% of parents think SRE should start in primary schools, from the ages of 4 to 11 years. Furthermore 90% think there should be a statutory duty on all schools, including faith schools and academies (currently able to opt-out), to deliver comprehensive SRE.

If you want to engage with the consultation, it closes on 16th April and you can submit your responses via this link. You may also, of course, wish to comment on other aspects of the curriculum consultation; as ever, do please use this thread to let us know what you think.


apu123 Thu 21-Mar-13 10:20:11

Well, logging in took forever but now I'm here, I have one simple thought really. That is that education on matters of sexuality should commence as early as possible and we should not be afraid to use appropriate language for body parts or activities. Sexuality is a fact of human existence and we should not treat it as a secret or something to be ashamed of. This only creates psychological problems, stress and an increased risk of entering into uninformed relationships and behaviours. It also serves to deny people their rights as humans and limits what has come to be called, their sexual citizenship. If people are squeamish or carry particular prejudices about sexuality, they should not be in the job of providing information to young people (or anyone else for that matter). Sexuality is just one more aspect of people's lives and should be treated as such.

plum100 Thu 21-Mar-13 21:40:50

Puberty - happens to everyone
Penis/labia - correct terms
Sexual Health - as important as any physical/emotional health.

Why are they all being omitted? Ridiculous. Every one will experience these things and therefore should be educated about them- some of it from an early age - then they just become the facts of life - not some big massive cover up by adults.

LittlePushka Thu 21-Mar-13 22:36:55

It would be a really fascinating if specifically a consultation was targeted at secondary school children,...and their responses were compared with those of adults (effectivley perhaps a generation or so older).

I think that the real proximity of secondary school children to issues relating to sex and relationships gives their opinion and suggestions on these matters particular importance in assessing the impact/effectiveness of sex education in primary school.

ouryve Fri 22-Mar-13 10:16:23

I now have visions of the government insisting that all teachers are trained to say the word "sex" Miranda fashion. hmm

And of course 11-13 year olds need to know about contraception. AND sexual health. It's an unsavoury fact, but there are children this age who are sexually active and need to know about these things. Pretending it doesn't happen isn't going to make it go away.

motherinferior Fri 22-Mar-13 10:38:22

Contraception and sexual health shouldn't be a bolt-on; they should be an integral part of the curriculum.

DeadWomanWalking Fri 22-Mar-13 10:54:26

And the government wonder why we have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world! hmm

Teaching about contraception at 14-16 is much too late most kids will already be having sex by then. It should be tackled in Year 7. Why can't they just bloody teach this stuff honestly, why all the bloody pussyfooting around and omitting certain words from the curriculum?

DeadWomanWalking Fri 22-Mar-13 10:56:46

That should say Europe, not the world.

TeaAndCakeOrDeath Fri 22-Mar-13 12:02:49

I'm possibly biased as mine are too little to for this yet (2 and still in utero) but I work with teenagers (youth worker actually doing a sex and relationships project at the minute due to the utter lack of knowledge in some of the teens at my centre) and am shocked by this.

So we're ok to teach children that they have knees, ears and toes but forbidden to teach them penis, testicles and labia? Its just some other bits of their body isnt it? And quite important bits they learn the proper names of in case of (god forbid) them ever having to explain that those bits hurt or have been touched inappropriatly etc?

The term 'puberty' has been left out of both primary and secondary school curricula and only referenced in the phrase "growing into adults" - again another perfectly normal process that happens to everyone that we are stigmatising by not talking about it? Would we not talk about digestion or respiration? Why do we 'hush up' anything possibly related to sex, are we actively trying to teach children its 'dirty'?

Lastly, delaying the teaching of contraception until Key Stage 4 when pupils are 14-16 is shutting the stable door long after the horse has bolted.

16.2 years is the average age for first time sex according to the lastest research I read but to be the average, a significant number of children will have had sex/engaged in some sexual activity far before this. It should be taught, as a fact of life, from a very early age - "women can choose when to have a baby and if they dont want one yet, they can take a special tablet every day" for example.

Its no wonder with this shoddy sex education that children are receiving we have such a high pregnancy rate, such rampent transmission of infections and such lack of knowledge - we hammer algebra and formation of an oxbow lake down their throat at school but refuse to adequately teach them something that might have massive ramifications on their life or might give them a very serious medical condition? Its completely stupid, utter madness.

bangwhizz Fri 22-Mar-13 12:48:11

'And of course 11-13 year olds need to know about contraception.

No they don't.having sex with an under 13 is statutory rape and it should not be normalised'

motherinferior Fri 22-Mar-13 13:08:27

But they are not being told to go out and DO sex. They are learning about what their options are when they do. I want my daughters knowing about all the contraception they can get their hands on - and indeed that there are plenty of lovely sexual things they can do which will not risk pregnancy - well in advance of their hormones revving up.

And indeed, the somewhat graphic session on childbirth that DD1 has just received (from the male partner of a very lovely MNer, yet grin) has gone a long way to strengthen her interest in contraception...

ouryve Fri 22-Mar-13 13:53:03

bangwhizz. Under 13s sometimes do have sex with each other without encouragement. Nobody would be telling a 12 year old to "go and have sex with a condom, now". They would be told that people having sex need to avoid pregnancy and transmission of STDs and this is the best way to avoid this. They would also usually be taught that the only foolproof way of avoiding these things is by not having sex. They should also be taught what the law is and that you don't have to have sex if you don't 100% want it.

Brushing it all under the carpet helps no one.

Ronaldo Sat 23-Mar-13 07:56:37

The problem is , in my experience of teaching social education ( euphamism for sex ed) and oftalking to many older students after they have left school and got wiser, is that nobody actually tells them it is illegal under 16.

I have heard many say they didnt know until they were much older that it was not acceptable or legal and even had they known, they would actually not felt the need to go and try it.

They get all this sex education telling them how and lots of jolly young nurses doing contraception and showing them the plastic penis etc and they think that is a cue to go and do it. It came as a total surprise to most when I did a little quiz on " ages you are allowed to...." as a fill in once and we got round to knowing that sexual intercourse was not acceptable under 16.

I have also had the discussion where when kids were asked " what age to you think you should have sex" ( in a text book not my question) they all said
"when you feel ready" - so I said, "so what age is that" - clearly they had not thought and so I said well, how about 6months ( yes we got the yukcs rightly), then I upped the age, until one lad said, " Sir shouldnt it be after puberty". I said " So when is that" - and a lot of them realised that puberty was also moveable ..... still none of them knew that an age to protect them had been set.

I had to explain that to them.

After that I had some interesting comments whilst kids were working and I was " doing the rounds" of checking work etc. A number of girls and boys seemed to want to know whether I ( and i am not allowed to say!) thought it was better to wait until they were older and had a proper steady boyfried. I expelianed I couldnttell them this and one girls said " well I am going to wait until I am engaged or married" - and the others seemed to agree ( including some boys!).

So you see , they dont know very much at all and we throw sex at them and its not understood.

Personally I am not allowing my DS intosuch lessons and I will be telling him clearly not to get jiggy with it until he is old enough to be responsible for the consequencies ( and I wont be having that conversation until he is at least 11).

musicalfamily Sat 23-Mar-13 19:14:23

I don't know why parents would want this, this is something I want to tackle myself with the children and choose when to do so (ie when they are individually ready and mature to understand it).

GoingGoingGoth Sat 23-Mar-13 19:33:18

Don't know whether Scotland is covered under these guidelines, but Glasgow has it's own SHRE guidance, used by all primary & senior schools. We've just moved here, so I've recently been to the parent's briefing. It was very good, teaches correct names in P1, and then slowly introduces other information though the years. The main premise is healthy self and respect for your own and others bodies.

The following is lifted from their fact sheet

The curriculum material has been written in a way that each year is a building block for future years. A great deal of effort has been made to ensure that the material is age and stage appropriate. It closely follows national guidance in respect of what should be taught and when.
Although the overall programme is called ‘sexual health & relationships education’, at early primary level the emphasis is very much on ‘relationships’, focusing on family, friendships, caring for people and things etc. At P5 the names for sexual organs and reproduction are introduced and in P6 and P7 issues about puberty and its emotional consequences are dealt with.
At secondary level, there are again strong ‘relationships’ and ‘emotions’ themes throughout. There is also an emphasis on encouraging young people to ‘delay’ engaging in sexual activity until they are ready to deal with its physical and emotional consequences. It is in S3 when issues about sexual activity and protection are introduced.

BertieBotts Sat 23-Mar-13 19:37:08

14-16 is FAR too late to be teaching about contraception! shock WTF? Who thought that one up, who can argue this is a positive thing?? I don't think by a long way that all or even most teenagers are having sex by this age but a sizeable minority will definitely have done it by 16 and they need to have those myths like "You can't get pregnant on your first time" "You can't get pregnant before you start your periods" (etc) myths busted and to be taught that no contraception is 100% and the things which render contraception unsafe (oils + condoms, antibiotics + pill, etc) well before they even think about having sex. And it should be repeated and repeated until they are utterly sick of it but they also know it so well that it just doesn't cross their mind to believe the myths.

TBH I think it's pretty outdated that sex education is still 10/11 year olds sat around a video where some cartoon children morph into adults, sprouting pubes and boobs etc. And then the scene of sex which is a cutaway diagram of how the penis goes in. It's just so far removed from what sex is, and in an age where any child can type "sex" into google and come across a whole range of stuff, most ridiculously inappropriate, I think it's just irrelevant.

Deal with the biology - physical changes, why they happen, reproduction, babies, contraception, etc, in biology. Deal with the emotional stuff, how it might feel to go through puberty, how to know if you're ready for sex, how to know if your partner is happy with the speed things are going, that it's ok to have regrets and to go back a stage, how to talk about sex, that there are different types/stages of sex and it isn't a competition to get to the "best" one, that you might prefer one thing to another, that you might be gay or bi, and that's fine, how to deal with a potential pregnancy, what abuse is and how to get help if you feel uncomfortable, etc etc, in lessons like PSHE where it's more of a discussion - this can start from 11ish and of course different topics would be discussed at different ages, but I just think it's ridiculous that we still insist on teaching "Sex education" as though it's one contained topic. Why is it still opt-out? Drugs education isn't opt-out. Vegetarian parents don't have the option to remove their children from dissection lessons. What's so special about sex? In this age of easy internet access it needs to be talked about more openly and in more depth than before, but let's separate the biology out from the emotions and treat them as the very different things that they are.

pointythings Sat 23-Mar-13 20:17:56

Well, I'm in favour of the Dutch model - they start early and seem to get results - as in, one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the world and one of the highest ages of first intercourse. And they're pretty damn explicit.

When I was at school in Holland they started at 12, which was too late - but at least it was very, very in depth. It took an entire term's worth of biology lessons and it covered the mechanics (puberty, menstruation, intercourse, pregnancy and birth, STDs but also the differences between the male and female orgasm) as well as the social and emotional aspects (peer pressure, commitment and relationships, the right to say no, social and religious aspects of virginity). We also talked about homosexuality and 'kinky' sex. It was all very neutral, done by our biology teacher and no-one batted an eyelid.

Not a lot of pregnant teens in my school.

I intend to do the sex ed bit myself, in fact started a very long time ago with my DDs who are 10 and 12. I don't trust the British system, especially since now this government looks to be winding back the changes brought in by the previous government (which did not go far enough) and pandering to the pearl clutching brigades in the shires.

Lara2 Sun 24-Mar-13 10:12:59

It all boils down to one simple fact - ignorance is not bliss. It never has been and never will be. Any Government that insists on putting it's head in the sand is storing up even more trouble then we currently have. Why on earth do they continue to think that ignoring a problem will make it cease to exist?
It's all so bloody frustrating - but TBH hardly surprising coming from a Government that really doesn't give two hoots about our Education system and the adults and children involved in it.

Chocolatemoosemama Sun 24-Mar-13 14:56:42

My ds is just about to have his sex education lessons at primary. Parents were allowed to view the DVD they use beforehand and we took the school up on this offer.

What struck me was that the sessions the school is using are nearly all about sex, with very little education on puberty - which obviously, being year 6 pupils, is something they are all going to go through soon and some may already be going through.

They are essentially teaching it all backwards. First they need to learn about their bodies and understand how they work, then they need to learn about how bodies change and develop and only after they have been taught about puberty and the physical, hormonal and emotional changes it brings will they be ready for learning about sex.

The other thing that concerns me is that it is too little, too late for some of the children in ds's year. Had they just taught the basic facts about body parts etc in a very biological matter of fact way from when they were younger, the staff would not be facing dealing with a lot of silly giggling and messing about, from children for whom this stuff has always been at best enigmatic, at worst secretive and/or shameful. If children are taught about their body, with appropriate terminology, from a young age they are much more likely to be accepting matter of fact about it and not find it embarrassing or funny.

In addition, it is a sad fact that, with a lack of formal education on the subject, some of the more developed boys at my dc's school have found their own methods of investigating - for want of a better word. Be it online or though magazines or other forms of media and there have been a few incidents recently of inappropriate behaviour and language being used, which other less-developed children have found confusing and upsetting. Had they all had sensible, age appropriate education from a young age, they would not have reached 11 years old and for some of them, puberty, without having the information/facts not to mention emotional and moral guidance they need to make sense of it all.

Thecatisatwat Mon 25-Mar-13 11:58:33

Chocolate completely agree with what you say. My worry is that children and teenagers will get their sex education from porn (what's that statistic, one in 4 11 year olds have viewed porn or something?) so I would like secondary school kids to be taught the truth about porn, how unrealistic it is, how many people in the industry are exploited, how it's all about money, how it promotes very unsafe sex and how it is completely inappropriate for them to be watching it etc.

And then I would like the PARENTS of primary school children to be forced to attend seminars where the dangers of children being exposed to porn either by easy access to the internet via phones or computers or by older children passing on information to younger children is rammed home quite forcefully.

I'm shocked that children aren't always being taught that the age of consent is 16, I assumed that all knew but that some were simply ignoring it.

worldgonecrazy Mon 25-Mar-13 12:09:07

I'd like a lot less focus on cartoon characters and "how your body changes", and a lot more focus on emotions, needs, how to be respectful to other people about sex, etc. The mechanics of sex and puberty is simple. The emotional and moral side of it is much more complex and that's why we need more focus on it. 14-15 year olds should be talking about relationships, not mechanics.

ItsAllGoingToBeFine Mon 25-Mar-13 12:31:38

As usual when this sort of thing is announced it does not apply to Scotland...

kx147 Mon 25-Mar-13 12:35:28

Having worked in several secondary schools my experience in all of them has been that there is great intention of teaching sex ed/sexual health/growing-up issues etc but delivering it has been a problem. The teachers are often embarrassed and don't know how to teach it. Sometimes it's left to the biology teacher or the tutor, and if they want to skim over it they will. This only reinforces the idea that it is rude, wrong and not to be talked about with adults. Discussing it from as young as possible and in context could go a long way to changing the overall attitude to sex in this country. Training staff to teach it well (or bringing in someone who does feel comfortable teaching it) might make it easier to deliver the lessons properly.

TumbleWeeds Mon 25-Mar-13 12:45:32

Seen the extremely high proportion of children that will have seen some porn at the end of Primary School, I think it's essential that sex education is done at school for an early age.

It is essential to teach children about their body, STI and contraception (as well as the woman cycle so that both girls and boys have an idea of what it actually IS and what it actually MEANS for the woman).
I think it's also essential to teach children about RESPECT, respect of their partners (more than half of grown men thinks that it's OK to have sex with a woman if she first said yes and then no.....) respect of themselves (You CAN say no to something you aren't keen on),.
And healthy dose of explanation of what porn actually is ie it is NOT the reality!

In a time when sexual scene (if not porn or violent porn) are available so easily, I am shock that some people high up are feeling a bit queasy about talking about sex.
It's a bit like saying that you should run a marathon but not telling you about it until you have started running. So no training before hand, no good shoes on etc... And then wondering why half of the runners never finished the race.
Our children NEED to be taught early on about the basics of sex. And talking about reproduction is NOT talking about sex. It's talking about biology.
Talking about sex is talking about respect and contraception. Very different.

BlindFishIdeas Mon 25-Mar-13 14:27:37

Hello all, I work as a paid Sex and Relationship Educator in high schools across Chester and just wanted to share a few thoughts.

What age?
I think we need to educate young people before they are doing things, not whilst they are starting to experiment. Therefore teaching them at 11-13 is about preparing them for when they are older not because we think they are all doing sexual things now. Yes young people under 13 can not legally 'consent' and we should not encourage them to be sexually active earlier. Every good quality Sex and Relationship Educator is working to encourage young people to delay their first sexual experience. To do this we need to speak early.

When young people are asked (National Children's Bureau Report for example) they say they want more information about Relationships and how the Media represents sex. We need to respond to these needs. SRE should not be purely biological we need to cover the emotional and social aspects of sex and relationships. I regularly say something like "It's good to think, discuss and make plans for your future personal life now, in the cold light of a classroom, so you can make critical thoughts now. You will make a better decision now then trying to make the decision when you are slightly drunk, late a night, at a party in front of the person you think is really attractive". Its about encouraging the development of good life skills and healthy attitudes.

Specifically Porn
I think adults need to get to grips with the influence of porn/erotica on young people. Let me share two questions I have recently been asked in lessons. (I apologise if the language offends but this is word for word what I was being asked) "If I press a girl's clit will she squirt?" and "why do guys want to cum on girls faces?". I cannot prove it but i am confident these questions had their route in porn. Maybe not the person asking has watched porn (but possibly) maybe this is just the current gossip. But the language used seems to be directly routed in pornography. In Chester I now teach a lesson specifically looking at the distortions of the media. half of this lesson is dedicated to pointing up the central fact that mainstream pornography is full of myths and lies! Young people's view of sex are being shaped by porn and we need to provide a counter message.

Isn't this the parents job?
I wish my job wasn't necessary I wish in every family the parents felt confident to talk about sex and relationships. I wish every young person felt they could ask their parents frank questions. I wish parents had all the information they needed. Sadly that is not the culture we live in. Many parents are too embarrassed/don't have enough up to date info to deal with the topic well. Most young people sadly aren't confident to ask their parents. And you do get the situation where some parents give bad advice. For example the young girl I worked with who said "It is not a real relationship until you have sex, my mum told me". For the benefit of all young people we need schools to be involved in SRE. But maybe it needs to be spearheaded by external specialist not dumped on overworked school teachers.

Please feel free to ask me any questions about the work I do despite the governments inaction.

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