I’ve blogged previously about the Schools Consent Project, which tries to address the lack of sex education in schools by sending volunteer lawyers into schools to facilitate workshops on consent. In that blog, I expressed hope that Justine Greening MP, the Secretary of State of Education and Minister for Women and Equalities would take action and make sex education compulsory in schools.
Ms Greening has suggested on a number of occasions recently, perhaps as a result of growing campaigns and calls for action, that guidance on sex and relationships education could be reformed.
It has been reported that she has been “clear it must be looked at”, and that it is “not just a question of making it mandatory but also of what we should be teaching, including issues such as sexting and domestic violence”.
The Government had the perfect opportunity to take action on this on 10 January 2017 in a Parliamentary Bill committee, at which making PSHE statutory was debated, but MPs voted against the proposed change.
Why should PSHE have a statutory basis?
Currently, Personal, Social and Health Education (‘PSHE’) is still not on a statutory footing, despite calls from MPs of both sides of the house. It is only mandatory that children and young people be taught about sex from a biological perspective. Schools do not have to teach children about relationships, consent, contraception, sexual violence, or sexuality.
47,000 sexual offences were recorded against children in 2016, a third of which were perpetrated by children against children. Nearly 60% of young women between 13 and 21 years old report sexual harassment at schools and colleges. This sets the scene for the importance of children and young people’s understanding of sex and relationships; so they understand what are acceptable interactions and what aren’t, and who they can talk to if they have concerns.
The proposed amendment – to safeguard children
The amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, as proposed by Stella Creasy MP was that to guarantee the safeguarding and welfare of children, a local authority in England must ensure that pupils receive appropriate personal, social and health education. This education must include, at least, sex and relationships education, and education on same-sex relationships, sexual consent, sexual violence, and domestic violence.
It was proposed the provision would be inspected by Ofsted and should be accurate and balanced, age-appropriate, inclusive, and religiously diverse.
Pupils of sufficient maturity could choose to be wholly or partly excused from participating in the lessons.
Many charities and organisations who work with children and safeguarding issues supported the amendment, including the Terrence Higgins Trust, NSPCC, and Barnardo’s.
During the debate reference was made to the clear evidence that guidance, rather than specific legislation, is not sufficient to ensure that children and young people are given good quality sex education. The overwhelming public support for this important matter was mentioned, as well as the fact that discussions of making PSHE statutory have been going on for a number of years, to no avail.
Ms Creasy referred to the internet age in which we live, but commented that this amendment is about “how we make sure that all our young people are given the right education and the right skills, not simply to identify risk but to prevent risk”.
Edward Timpson MP, Minister for Schools, confirmed during the discussion that the Government is working on the issue of sex education, in particular in relation to faith schools, and will return to it at a stage of the Bill when the whole House has an opportunity to debate.
The government needs to take urgent action on PSHE
Unfortunately for the future of children and young people in the UK, the amendment was defeated by ten votes to five in a vote by the committee.
It is extremely disappointing that the Government has still not taken the urgent action needed to ensure our children are educated fully about this important matter. It continues to take no action despite extensive evidence, much cross-party consensus on the need, calls from the Education Committee, the Chairs of the Health, Home Affairs, and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees, and many public campaigns.
Ms Creasy commented “another consultation, another review and a generalised commitment will not do any more. Young people in this country need and deserve better from us”.
I wholeheartedly agree.
It’s not good enough that the Government continues to acknowledge this as an issue, but fails to take any action to resolve the situation.
Whilst this huge gap in our children’s education persists, children and young people across the country are being failed; because we as a society are failing to equip them with the knowledge and understanding of basic human relationships, and failing to give them an opportunity and forum to learn, to talk and to discuss.