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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.


pointythings Mon 25-Mar-13 18:02:57

Fish I could not agree with you more - my DD1 is in Yr7 and one of the not very nice boys in her year just came right out and asked her for a blowjob. I am so glad I've been talking to her about sex, relationships and self-respect and so she could handle it.

I do worry about children who grow up with this completely dysfunctional image of sex and sexuality. Not only are their parents failing to talk to them appropriately, they are also failing to shield them from the kind of graphic sexual content which is available on the Internet.

However, the answer is not to allow schools to more or less opt out of sex education - on the contrary, it needs to be more in depth, more open and more honest. And it needs to start much earlier too. All this wishy-washy stuff about not mentioning puberty is going to take the UK backwards.

OrWellyAnn Mon 25-Mar-13 20:02:07

I think children should be taught sex Ed throughout school, both primary and secondary at levels appropriate to their age. Our 7 year old has already been taught (by us) what her bits are, and boy bits, how it all works, how babies are made, shown pictures of internal organs and how they release sperm and egg. We did this because she asked, and we felt it was wring to give her a 'birds and bees' version and confuse her. We also explaned about there being an age when it was appropriate, about inappropriate sex (ie between anyone and herself before she is 16, though I did tell her the truth, that I had lost my virginity at 15, and that I probably wasn't ready and did it because of peer pressure, and that sex between anyone and herself if she doesn't want to was wrong.)
it's too important an issue to be left to chance or covered cack handedly, and tbh I'm really surprised that in 2013 there are kids whose parents themselves don't take that responsibility, esp with the prevalence of highly sexualised media...even mainstream stuff like MTV is massively sexualised.

i do think there certainly should be coverage of it in schools for those who don't have that support at home, and it doesn't hurt to hear the messages that sex is about sharing your body with someone you WANT to share it with, and the consequences of doing so, both good and bad, from more than one source.

OrWellyAnn Mon 25-Mar-13 20:04:06

Oh, and we have skirted contraception, just told her it is possible not to get pregnant, but not covered std's or anything in great detail, but I will do by the time she is 9/10 because although I certainly don't expect or want her to be having sex by then, I would never be naive enough to believe it doesn't sometimes happen, and I would hate her to be misinformed.

TheFallenNinja Mon 25-Mar-13 21:12:49

Dear The Government.

You worry about the economy, poverty, equality and the three R's and I'll teach my kids all they need to know about sex and relationships. M'kay.


If you all stopped telling pories we'd perhaps be a little more inclined to trust you.



pointythings Mon 25-Mar-13 21:21:32

The problem with that is that there are too many parents who don't teach their children about sex and relationships, Ninja. So we can't afford not to do this in schools, because we have children who get their sex education from Internet porn and embarrassed stammering teachers who have drawn the short straw and so have to do 'the talk' that year.

BertieBotts Mon 25-Mar-13 21:29:18

I've mentioned contraception, briefly, to my 4 year old as part of a general conversation about how babies are made, during a conversation about periods when he followed me into the toilet, and because he asked what my pill packet was for and if I was poorly because he knows tablets as medicine. It doesn't have to be a big secret thing.

I think it should be covered in schools and I think the focus on mechanics is very outdated now. Make it porn-aware because that's the way most children are, sadly, going to learn about sex. Most people in my generation learned about sex from porn and it's left us with really fucked up ideas about it! I'm 24.

pointythings Mon 25-Mar-13 21:38:48

Bertie that's exactly the approach I have always taken - they ask, you tell - in an age appropriate way. None of that 'oh, you don't need to know that, I'll tell you when you're older' crap.

TheFallenNinja Mon 25-Mar-13 23:14:34

Totally on board with the state educating in the mechanics of sex, I do however take issue with the notion that my views on relationships could be contradicted in the classroom.

This is not to say that I hold any controversial or cutting edge views on relationships, however if a question came up and my answer was the opposite of what is being taught by the state then there is a problem.

It doesn't really help that in law whilst we have an age of consent, it's actually pretty worthless when consent can be given at a younger age and that can be used in a defence.

MsMarple Mon 25-Mar-13 23:23:07

Speaking from personal experience, I think sex education at 14 made it seem like a perfectly natural, normal, desirable thing for me to be doing in my relationships. Which led to me behaving, at a very young age, in a way that was massively damaging to my self esteem and wellbeing.

I might have acted differently if the focus of lessons had been on waiting until you were an adult to do adult things, understanding the emotional consequences of sexual activity rather than simply managing the risk of conception, and valuing yourself enough to say no even though 'everyone does it'. And the very clear idea that 16 was the age of consent, so really not to bother even thinking about it as an option until then.

I also agree with the 'if they ask, you tell' approach. But this also means that if they don't ask, and aren't showing any interest, don't shock them to the core with a video of cartoon people having sex that they are much too young for. Someone up-thread was advocating sex education for 4 year olds. Not quite sure what detail they would want to include, but I feel that introducing information about sex to children who haven't asked for it is a kind of violation.

Jux Mon 25-Mar-13 23:44:31

I think that respect for yourself and for other people should be taught from the moment a child starts to mix with others. They grow up knowing about stranger danger from reception, if ont before, but they also need to be taught how to be respectful of others, but particularly what is not respectful to themselves.

If that can be established early on, then it leads naturally onto relationships and eventually to sex ed. Red flags should be included in primary, and carried through until they leave education.

Some of this is obvious really, I know, but I think it needs to be emphasised more.

Hulababy Tue 26-Mar-13 08:26:53

Dd had a pretty good puberty and periods talk in y5 at school. I was really pleased. Of course I have talked to her about it all beforehand. But somehow learning things at school as well just helps reinforce it all. And sadly many children do not get informed by their parents either. For us the timing was perfect. She had the school talk I'm the summer of y5. She had already started puberty re body changes and she then started her periods at Christmas in y6. She felt confident to deal with them, and because of the school talk she also knew who she may need to go see in school, which were the best toilets to use, where to go if she needed help, knew she was allowed paracetamol at school and who would,look,after it, etc.

She will have the sex talk in the summer of y6. Again at home we have had spoken a little about it and we have a couple of books. She is aware. But the school talk and video will reinforce it. I do not expect her to be having sex for many years to come, but I do want her to have the information. And yes, she will learn abut legal ages too. By learnng a little and often about sex, sexual health, contraception, relationships, etc from primary on, it keeps reinforcing the information, so by the time they are older terms and considering exploring this side of life the knowledge should be there, learnt and absorbed.

Relationships currently starts in reception. I have done circle time with 4 and 5 year olds about respecting one another, looking out for each other, what to do if others do things you don't like ( in context of rough play, playground stuff, etc.) this continues throughout primary, building on the information each year.

posadas Tue 26-Mar-13 08:47:37

Pointythings -- you're right there are many parents who don't teach their children about sex and relationships. There are also many parents who don't teach their children about maths, reading, writing, history, geography, nutrition, physical education, manners, etc etc etc.... Schools are struggling to find and retain teachers who can teach what schools were set up to teach (and, often, what parents neglect to teach at home). Where and how will they find teachers who can deliver the sort of "sex education" you and others advocate? As you say, at the moment, the classes are delivered by "embarrassed stammering teachers who have drawn the short straw and so have to do 'the talk' that year". Where will the straight-talking, un-embarrassed teachers come from? And at the expense of what other education?

(for the avoidance of doubt: I mean "straight-talking" in the sense of "direct", "un-stammering", etc -- not in a sexual sense!!!)

kritur Tue 26-Mar-13 20:37:58

Quite honestly no teacher should be forced to teach it.... I say that because unless they willingly volunteer then they will teach it badly, skip buts and generally make a total hash of it. I quite happily teach it and answer questions without embarrassment. The same cannot be said for my ex colleague, a mid 40s history teacher who still lived with his parents, had never had a girlfriend (or boyfriend) but whose timetable was not full.

pointythings Tue 26-Mar-13 20:41:20

posadas we need a system of the kind they have in Scandinavian countries. Of course that would also mean changing our culture of viewing sex as something shameful and dirty that you do when you're drunk on a Friday night. It's going to take some doing, but we can't afford not to try.

MsMarple when I had sex education in the Netherlands I was 13, and as I have mentioned above, the open, honest and thorough teaching I got certainly did not encourage me (or anyone else) to go out and have sex. Even though sex was not in any way discussed as something 'forbidden'. We were certainly told that sex was something precious and that our bodies were not to be given away cheaply, but the emphasis was on strong, loving relationships, not on saving ourselves for marriage. The 'let's get the talk over with' approach used in the UK helps no-one, and nor does not discussion the social and emotional aspects.

Ninja could you clarify? I would hope that schools would be responsible enough not to teach their students that sex is just a fun thing you can do without consequences. However, I do not think parents who teach anti-homosexual views at home should receive much consideration when deciding the curriculum - after all, they can always choose to withdraw their children.

The age of first intercourse in the Netherlands is considerably higher than it is in the UK.

posadas Wed 27-Mar-13 10:21:38

pointythings: scandinavian countries and the netherlands all have much more homogenous populations and much greater income equality than the UK. I would guess these socio-economic factors influence the age of first intercourse and rate of teen pregnancies more than (or at least as much as) whatever "sex education" is offered in schools. The causes of sexual problems (children being pressured into early sex, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies, etc) will not be solved by training more teachers in the UK to be competent and sensitive sex educators. There are much more complex problems that need to be addressed -- far beyond the remit of a "primary education" chat.

pointythings Wed 27-Mar-13 20:59:35

I agree, posadas and I have always said this - socio-economic inequality is the elephant in the room in everything, not just sex education.

Unfortunately we have a government who appear to want to increase the divide, not close it.

Cultural factors can't be underestimated - I have vivid memories of discussing the mechanics of the female orgasm with my father when I was about 21. No idea how it came up, but we could just talk about it, like adults, without either of us feeling in the slightest bit embarrassed. I don't see that happening in many UK families, unfortunately.

BlindFishIdeas Thu 28-Mar-13 09:41:03

There is a simple solution to the problem of current teachers not feeling able or willing to teach SRE. We can make use of external specialists. Many young people talk about how they want an external person to be the main lead in a lesson so that they can ask blunt direct questions. External workers they wont then have to see in English classes. Equally I recognise that some young people will want to talk to a teacher they know, which is why SRE lessons should have main staff presents whilst an external specialist leads the topic. We need a mix.

There are some excellent, professional, direct and knowledgeable SRE educators that can do excellent work. Both the larger SRE charities (brook, fpa) and smaller independent workers (Esteem Resource Network, BishUK) could be key in improving what young people receive at School. An educator who's job is to focus on SRE all the time is always going to be better prepared to deliver lessons then the poor geography teacher forced to teach 2 hours of SRE a year.

SelfRighteousPrissyPants Thu 28-Mar-13 12:00:18

This is strange, I've just had a discussion with some of the parents at my child's school about how they WILL be taught the correct names for genitals! Some were horrified that 5 yo's will know the words penis and vagina, personally I think it's a good thing to tell them the correct names. So is our school behind the times with the curriculum or hasn't the new 'tell them as little as possible as late as possible' one started yet?

SelfRighteousPrissyPants Thu 28-Mar-13 12:01:26

Ah sorry. Re-read it to see it's a proposal blush

Ronaldo Fri 29-Mar-13 13:25:11

I think this " age appropriate" rubbish is just that - rubbish. There isnt anything age appropriate about teaching sex to a five or six year old.

I am sending my DS to a school where this does not happen. If I find it does happen ( having asked already) I will be withdrawing him from those classes. Thats it, end of.

As for those lovely specilaists who are supposedly teaching it without embarassment - I have witnessed it in my previous school. I was the QTS who had to be there whilst this young woman did her thing. Next to pornography it was the nastiest and least educational lesson I have ever seen. I am not prudich but I think it was too much and there was no direction. It is not without some coincidence I think that several boys felt it appropriate thereafter to say very suggestive things to girls in class! Neither do I think it was isolated that one girl got pregant a few weeks later ( having "done it" for her boyfriends 16!). She was in floods of tears, clearly unprepared and thought it was "OK". No one told her what would be the consequence of being 13 and pregnant. No one told her anything really despite or because of those lessons which were all sex and nothing about choice or choice not to.

Similarly, just before the Easter break, in a very different context I was teaching a class where they filled in a questionnaire about what they were looking for in a future "mate" There was a list of characteristics and they had to rank them as what was most important and what wasleast important.

I have done this time and again over the years but I saw something odd this year. Many boys ( BOYS!!!) had ranked chastity very highly for the first time. ( usually only overseas students were doing this previously and we had a one or two rank it highly, but this year, nearly all the boys ranked it as a characteristic they wanted in a girl - yes this was assuming heterosexuality).

The girsl ranked chastity low ( not difference) but were very shocked when they saw the ranks come out with chastity high on male lists.

Now as I said, its not been a feature before but it led to a full scale row ( no other word) in the class between the boys and girls ( all sixth form) over
"how dare the boys want a virgin" and how " they wouldnt find a girl who fitted their high spec in our society" ( all fromn the girls who were clearly following the post feminist / ladette culture)

Boys though it seemed had not been jiggy as several said, wanted to find a girl and have a real relationship first and they didnt want second hand goods ( their words!).

The lesson ended. I dont know what happened. I never did complete the correlation stats.

So , be aware ladies, young men may be changing here and they may be getting more discerning. Tell your daughters before they go and do what they shouldnt oughta!

I was taken aback as I had not seen this before on this scale.

socareless Fri 29-Mar-13 17:19:13

Could'nt agree more Ronaldo. All this superior talk of 'age appropriate sex talk' for 5 yr old is making me very queasy. Why, oh why? I think all this is just paving way for something very sinister in future.

Will not be surprised if people start talking about children as young as 5 being allowed to experient as its part of our nature as 'sexual beings'.

There are a lot of negative forces at play here. For me Feminism is a word meaning * I hate being a woman*. <shudders>

InSearchOfPerfection Sat 30-Mar-13 10:15:39

But what do you mean by sex education at 5yo? If this is about knowing what are the genitals in men and women and know that to make a baby you need some sperm and an egg, I am not sure why this would be an issue.
I mean lots of youngest who are in a farming family are aware of that (and how the men give the sperm) at a much younger age.... They just have to look around them/nature.

However, I am not sure that talking about sex position etc... at school S appropriate with teenagers. But talking about respect, that you should only do things when you want to not because you should/peer pressure/bf or gf pressure should be talked about.
As well as the biology behind reproduction (because of its link with pg) and the responsibility of both sex about it.
And STI. Lots about STI such as herpes that you can catch even if you don't have full sex for example.

I am very uneasy about the fact that boys ranked girls being a virgin a good thing.... Does it mean that it is good for men too to be a virgin? And that they would be 'second hand goods'. Because if they do, they there is something to think about. But if it is again 'the girl needs to be a virgin but men can do as they please...' then... the girl were more than right to take offence tbh.

InSearchOfPerfection Sat 30-Mar-13 10:20:12

socareless sadsad.
What else can I say.....

Perhaps, something like 'Have a look at what a real patriarchal society where women have few rights means'? And then learn to appreciate what other women have done for you so you can have choices in your life (incl fitting the stereotypical idea of what a woman should be)

socareless Sat 30-Mar-13 16:28:20

Insearch I am actually laughing at 'I mean lots of youngest who are in a farming family are aware of that (and how the men give the sperm) at a much younger age' and ' learn to appreciate what other women have done for you so you can have choices in your life'.

You don't know me so please let's not make this personal. I think women will do ourselves a lot of good if we stop trying to emulate men and score one point over them. The biggest point we seem to want scoring now is that of sexual promiscuity forgeting that men don't get pregnant or can have sex and not feel attachment unlike women.

To each her own. If it suits you can hold 'sex talks' with your 5 yr old daughter (God help her).

Ronaldo Sat 30-Mar-13 17:36:48

I am very uneasy about the fact that boys ranked girls being a virgin a good thing.... Does it mean that it is good for men too to be a virgin? And that they would be 'second hand goods'. Because if they do, they there is something to think about. But if it is again 'the girl needs to be a virgin but men can do as they please...' then... the girl were more than right to take offence tbh

I think I did make the reasoning clear but it seems you didnt want to see it.

They were not asked to rank their own gender or themselves, so I cannot say what would have been the outcome.

However,the boys were very clear that they themselves were not engaging in random sex (as I call it, getting jiggy). They agreed they wanted a relationship before they did this . They felt it important that any mate they chose should be similar to themsleves and did not want girls who were free and easy (my phrase not theirs).

To sum up it seemed they didnt feel they wanted their lives to be dominated by nasty rashes and trips to the hospital for STI. They had clearly grasped the message that when you have sex with a partner you have sex iwth every partner they have had before you. Sexual health lies in not having multiple a partners and random sexual encounters..

They were keeping healthy, they wanted a healthy female.

Only one girl felt virginity was important and she said this was a matter of religion for her. One partner for life.

Not a nice thing to say I agree but it clearly showed the gap opening between males and females here.

Is that clear enough?

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