Yesterday the Government announced that Sex and Relationship (SRE) Education will be made compulsory in all schools. This is great news and is something that AVA has been advocating for many years.
In February we joined the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) in writing an open letter to Education Secretary Justine Greening calling for compulsory Sex and Relationship Education in schools. The letter (which you can read here) makes the case for new legislation in the Children and Social Work Bill to ensure children are taught about healthy relationships and consent in schools.
The letter states: Children and young people today are subjected to pressures in and outside school that are seriously affecting their mental health and changing their perceptions of what is normal in relationships. Girlguiding found in 2014 that 59% of girls and young women aged 13–21 had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college. Another study found almost all (96%) of gay pupils hear homophobic language such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’ in school (Stonewall, 2012). More recent statistics show one in five girls are sent unwanted pornographic images (Girlguiding, 2016). School leaders report that sexting is endemic, and research by Ofsted in March 2015 found less than half of schools had implemented an acceptable policy for technology in school and that training for teachers in this area was inconsistent.
On 1 March 2017 the government responded and announced that education on sex and healthy relationships is to be made compulsory in all schools. We are also pleased to see that it has been re-framed as Relationship and Sex Education (RSE), placing more importance on the relationship aspects of the curriculum. This applies to all schools, including academies and free schools. A cause for concern is the fact that parents are able to opt their children out of lessons.
But there is still more to do…
There will be a public consultation later on in the year, and the government will be consulting with key stakeholders. We urge you to respond to the consultation as there is still uncertainty as to what RSE will look like. We need to ensure that a gendered approach is taken with lessons including:
- gender equality
- challenging sexual harassment
- issues affecting LGBT young people
- wider forms of violence against women and girls
- staying safe
- engaging boys and young men as allies against gender based violence
And of course, these lessons cannot take place in isolation. They must be part of a wider whole school approach to ending gender based violence (see our toolkit for how to do this).
So, this is a hugely welcome step forward, but we need to carry on working together to ensure young people have access to the good quality RSE that they need, want and deserve.