I don’t know what your PSHE classes looked like, but I’d say a good chunk of mine pre-year 11 were watching clips of Mean Girls and the Shawshank Redemption, with the occasional few token hand-outs.
This may have been more the particular teacher’s approach, but the fact remains that when I was given an article prompt on how sex education could be improved in schools, I wasn’t exactly short of ideas. Ideas like consent, inclusion of those who identify as LGBT, relationships and mental health, negotiating relationships in the age of Snapchat and other social media, and the reality that if we don’t teach children what healthy relationships look like, they will learn it from other, potentially harmful sources.
So imagine my surprise when, whilst googling for a bit of current post-school life context, I find that the government is actually planning to re-uphaul the current framework for sex and relationships education, due for consultation this very autumn with a planned implementation date of 2019. To give them credit, it doesn’t actually look too skeleton-like a provision. Responding to repeated calls from organisations such as Mumsnet and the PTA, the government is proposing to make sex and relationships education statutory in all state-maintained secondary schools, with relationships education also statutory in primary schools. As a baseline for proposed consultation, the government is planning for these lessons to include how children can recognise healthy relationships, covering both friends and family alongside romantic relationships, factual knowledge around sex and sexuality (the latter of which I’m hoping means LGBT inclusion), the impact of relationships on our emotional, mental and physical health, and also covers safety online. They even note the inclusion of economic wellbeing and the dangers of drugs. Still, there is the proposed clause that parents have the right to withdraw their children from these lessons, and also for faith schools to be able to teach in line with the tenets of their faith. Yet, as a starting point, this seems pretty far ahead from watching Regina George get hit by a bus.
If, as the government is hoping, this is taught from 2019, students stand to gain from a comprehensive view of sex and relationships which covers much more than the standard STIs/contraception talk, which takes into account the impact technology is having and will continue to have on what children learn about the fundamentals of adult life; building and maintaining relationships. The next step here, then, is to ensure that these proposals do actually get their time of day. ‘Statutory’ doesn’t equal ‘organised, funded, and training provided’, which is going to be vital to the success of these new lessons. And, in a world where teachers are having to pay for pens and paper out of their own pockets, where timetabling is stretched, where exams are the ‘be all and end all’ and some girls are missing school because they can’t afford to buy period products, the government has to realise that proper funding and organisation is crucial to the success of what are incredibly important proposals. If every child did leave school with a good knowledge of sex and relationships and felt empowered to make their own choices, imagine the positive impact that would have. So here’s hoping.