Why the Government should start 2017 by giving our children the sex and relationship education they deserve

Posted by Sara Ogilvie on 20 December 2016

As schools across the country break up for the holidays, we’re hopeful pupils will return in the New Year to an announcement from the Department for Education (DfE) that age-appropriate sex and relationship education (SRE) will be added to the national curriculum for all primary and secondary schools.

For those of us whose school years are fast fading into the distance, it might come as a surprise that this isn’t already mandatory in our modern world.

But while secondary schools must teach about the biological aspects of sex, they’re not required to provide young people with a safe environment to learn about the wider, vitally important issues around sex and relationships – like consent, gender equality and sexuality.

Perfect opportunity

Last year, the DfE announced the curriculum would not be expanded to require the teaching of these subjects – despite numerous parliamentary committees, advocates and young people themselves calling for reform. It was even rumoured that then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan supported the change – but was blocked by Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Children and Social Work Bill – which continues its passage through the Commons in January – would be the perfect parliamentary opportunity for the Government to atone for this damaging error of judgement.

Devastating effect

The lack of SRE is having a devastating effect on the mental and physical health and safety of our young people – and the adults they grow into.

Data shows 5,000 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools over a three year period, including 600 rapes.

In 2015, Girlguiding reported that 75 per cent of girls and young women said anxiety about potentially experiencing sexual harassment affects their lives in some way. And only last week police statistics showed one in ten crimes recorded by police involve domestic abuse.

A human rights issue

This failure to educate, support and listen to young people is a human rights issue.

Dignity and autonomy are at the heart of what it means to live in a rights-respecting world. The Government must shoulder some of the responsibility for ensuring young people know what those values mean in practical terms in their sexual and emotional interactions with others.

Under the Human Rights Act, the state is required to take steps to protect us from inhuman and degrading treatment, such as sexual assault and rape. That obligation should not just be discharged at the police station – it must start in our classrooms.

And making sure we live in a society that does not discriminate on the basis of sexuality or treat people less favourably on the basis of their gender means understanding that we are not all the same, but are all equal and deserving of respect – including in our most intimate relationships.

Here’s hoping the Government starts 2017 by deciding to act like responsible adults – and committing to an education that children and young people both need and deserve.