Parents think sex education should be compulsory.

May 22nd 3013

A new poll carried out by YouGov reveals that parents think sex education should be compulsory in schools. Parents believe that the topics of sexual consent and respectful relationships should be covered. The poll is accompanied by a report that is critical of action taken by the Department of Education to address the issue of sexual abuse in schools. Currently, maintained secondary schools, but not academies, are legally required to:

  • teach some parts of sex education, for example, the biological aspects of puberty, reproduction and the spread of viruses. 
  • teach about HIV, AIDs, and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The broader subject of sex and relationship education is currently not compulsory, but is contained within the non-statutory PSHE (personal, social, health, economic) subject, which is in the National Curriculum. The inclusion of the subject outside the science curriculum is strongly recommended by government guidance, and governors are legally required to give ‘due regard’ to this guidance.

Maintained secondary schools, but not academies, are legally obliged to have a sex and relationship education policy which outlines how they teach this subject outside of the science curriculum.

It is important to note that academies do not have to teach sex education in the science curriculum, nor are they required to have policy, but they are required to give ‘due regard’ to government guidance.

The same requirements described above apply to faith secondary schools.

The government has recently issued a new draft National Curriculum which will come into place in September 2014.  The requirements outlined above will be broadly the same.

What has this got to do with choosing a secondary school?

  • The teaching of sex education in secondary schools can vary considerably, particularly because there are a growing number of secondary academies, and they adhere to different requirements from maintained state schools
  • Because  PSHE is not obligatory, some schools do not teach it. Some schools do teach it, and call it something else. Most schools cover the subject of PSHE in other subjects, if they don’t teach it as a standalone subject.
  • Schools teach sex education to different extents. Some schools will automatically cover sexual consent and respectful relationships, some will not.
  • In some schools, because it is not an exam subject, PSHE is not taken seriously by pupils. As a result, if the classroom environment is not an appropriate one for the teaching of sex education, the teaching is not always effective.
  • It is rarely the case that PSHE or sex education is taught by subject specialists. Sometimes it is the case that the teachers who end up teaching sex education are reluctant to do so.  The quality of sex education therefore is often down to the quality of the teachers and their commitment to the subject.
  • Some schools have a really vibrant and engaging PSHE curriculum (or they might call it something else) which is appreciated by students. In this context, sex education is often well taught.
  • Sex education can only be well taught if the school has established an ethos of respect, where pupils can take risks with questions they ask, and feel comfortable to reveal their own lack of understanding or knowledge. This ethos has to pervade the whole school, and cannot just be developed in isolation for sex education lessons.
  • If sex education is to be effective, then pupils have to have a positive relationship with the teacher who teaches it, so they trust the information they are given.
  • Arguably, teachers are not the right people to be teaching young people about sex. It is sometimes the case that, because teachers represent authority, pupils automatically rebel against advice they perceive to be given by teachers.
  • Some secondary schools bring in outside agencies to educate pupils about sex, so that pupils feel the information is from a source they can relate to, if they don’t relate well to the school.
  • There is an on-going debate about when pupils should be taught sex education.  Some individuals and organisations think that secondary schools tend to teach it too late in the child’s development.
  • A school that is effective at teaching about sex and relationships develops and changes its curriculum according to the changing needs of the pupils. For example, there might be a local incident in the news which effects pupils’ attitudes to sex and relationships, and a good school should address this through the curriculum.

If you are concerned about how your child will be taught sex education at secondary school,

  • ask if they have a sex and relationship education policy, (a requirement if they are not an academy) and see if you are happy with when and what pupils are taught about sex education.
  • look in the school prospectus to see if and how PSHE, and/or sex and relationship education is referred to. This will give you some idea of what kind of profile the subject has in the school.
  • when you visit the school, ask the pupils if they have PSHE as a subject, or something similar.  Ask them if they like it, enjoy it, or mess about in it. This will give you some idea about the environment sex education is taught in.
  • at the open evening, as to speak to the member of staff in charge of PSHE. If they are impressive and high profile, it is often the case that the curriculum for which they responsible is similarly dynamic.
  • at the open evening, as the member of staff in charge of PSHE how the school responds to the changing needs of their pupils, with regard to sex and relationship education.  It is a good sign if the curriculum is bespoke to the needs of the pupils at that school.

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