I was interested to read reports of the Scottish government-led review of Personal and Social Education (PSE) which found that the subject needs to be “vastly improved” in the senior phase of secondary education and is too often viewed as a “lesser element of the curriculum”.
Pupils, the review said, complained that the focus of classes was too often on substance misuse and lessons were outdated and did not relate to the issues that they were concerned about. Secondary pupils who took part in an engagement session said the top priority for PSE lessons should be mental health and self-esteem, along with sex and sexual health.
I was also drawn to the review’s conclusion that the teaching of sexual consent, particularly in primary, is an “aspect for improvement”. For me, there is an awful lot of work to be done before sex education in schools is perceived to be the crucial component of learning that it actually is, hence the Department for Education’s consultation on Relationships, Sex and Health Education for schools in England and Wales. At the heart of the issue is parental engagement in the subject, and its benefits for young people.
Reports earlier this month that hundreds of people in Leeds believe children should be able to opt out of sex education classes at school is a worrying sign of where we are. More than 800 people have signed a petition which says: “We believe it is the parent’s fundamental right to teach their child RSE (relationship and sex education) topics or to at least decide who teaches them and when and how they are taught. We want the right to opt our children out of RSE when it becomes mandatory in September 2020.”
I believe that parents who feel very strongly that they are best placed to teach their children about sex education should be able to showcase how they will do this and ensure that their child will not be missing valuable education. In my opinion, any home-schooling must reflect the expectations within the new statutory guidance.
I feel very strongly that pupils should not be able to opt out of sex education classes (though there is, of course, an understanding around students with special educational needs and a special circumstance opt-out option should be available for these students). The evidence is clear in the challenges we face: consent, under-age sex/pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, female genital mutilation and so on. The statistics around these show that relationships and sex education is needed. Surveys and statistics have driven this government change and all children should receive this education to ensure that they are prepared for future life in Great Britain.
There is a lot of discussion on social media about the new Netflix comedy, Sex Education, which may help push the subject into mainstream consciousness. Certainly key to the success of RSE is engaging the support and involvement of the parents who can view related resources and support their children in advance of the topics being taught in the classroom. Schools need to find the opportunity to encourage parents on the importance of this information – an opportunity we are keen to support.
Hayley Sherwood, creator of 1decision, part of Headway learning resources