Since MPs from the Education Select Committee announced in February that the Department for Education should make it a statutory requirement of state primary school pupils to study not just PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education) but SRE (Sex and Relationship Education) the debates have gathered momentum.
Some say it’s a disgrace and sad, others say it’s essential for children and young people to be able to keep themselves safe.
The proposal is the latest in a long line of challenges to the current curriculum after Ofsted’s report back in 2013 stated that ‘schools were not doing enough to keep their children safe and informed’.
Today MPs say the internet and social media have moved on at such a pace, and children and young people are on a daily basis exposed to overtly sexual imagery on what are supposed to be safe sites, that we have to tell our children about their implications or we leave them open to abuse and exploitation.
The bottom line from Westminster seems to read that if we can talk openly about the potential hazards associated with smoking, alcohol and drugs, why can’t address we the issues of sexting and porn sites.
Under the current system, primary schools do not have to provide sex and relationships lessons beyond what is covered in the science curriculum, while local council-run secondaries have to cover sexually transmitted diseases as part of science for 14-16-year-olds, the report noted.
Academies do not have to offer SRE but, if they do, they must take into account the Government’s guidance.
The committee said that there is a ‘lack of clarity’ over the status of the subject, adding that many people had suggested there is confusion over whether SRE is compulsory and in what schools.
The Department for Education (DfE), it said, should develop a plan for introducing age-appropriate PSHE and SRE – which should be renamed relationships and sex education (RSE) – as statutory subjects in primary and secondary schools, the committee said.
To be fair to those in favour of making it compulsory, they really seem to have done their homework. The committee enquiry team, when it first put the topic up for consultation, received over 430 written submissions during the inquiry, including a large number from individual parents. They took on board the messages to come out of numerous face to face and online consultations. They met with teachers, young people and local authority advisers.
As founder and director of the Athena Programme I believe the new statutory teachings should include how children keep themselves safe. Who their ‘safe’ people are within their own immediate family and friends. If we can get our children to talk openly we should hopefully empower them to keep themselves safe and mage their own ‘risks’ accordingly. This can be delivered in a way that is focused solely on the children and young people, especially with the way they interact with the on/off line world of the internet and social media.
And so the debate rages on, but from what has already been said, we need to start listening to what the children and young people are saying about the subject because if we start to exclude them, we will surely lose them and they’ll soon look to the internet more and more for the answer.
House of Commons Life Lessons
2013 Ofsted report
Compulsory Sex Education Now