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Education Update

Sex & Relationships Education

‘Sex lessons for 5 year olds’ is always bound to be an attention grabbing headline. Certainly when you take it out of context, it seems an invitation to snatch your pen and write strong words to the local education authority.

Get behind the headline though and we find one of the most positive educational reforms of recent months. Sex and relationships education is going mandatory as part of new plans to make Personal, Social and Health Education a compulsory part of the curriculum. Children will have the opportunity to explore what makes good, successful relationships from the beginning of their primary education as a foundation for thinking about sex (much) later on in their school careers.

Where has this decision come from? A Government review found education on these issues ‘patchy’, prompting the call for a legal requirement. But what was particularly note-worthy in the announcement was Schools Minister Jim Knight’s question mark over sex and morality: ‘We need to improve… relationship education, improve the moral framework and moral understanding around which we then talk about sex later on in a child's education.’

What he particularly wants to challenge in the move is the perception that the topic of sex is taught in a ‘moral vacuum’. Is this fair? Well, it’s already a legal requirement to teach about sex and relationships (i.e. present a ‘moral framework’) in Wales and Northern Ireland. But Scotland has no such requirement. In England, sex is taught in Year 6 as part of basic biology and features in the science curriculum at key stage 3 and 4. There are published guidelines on looking at the wider issues of relationships, contraception and STIs, but teaching has not been mandatory. And when the demands on curriculum time in schools is so tight, it’s easier to live in the world of ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we could fit it in?’ than to carve out time for it, despite its relevance for so many young people. Unsurprising that its teaching was found ‘patchy’.

Of course this leads to the obvious question of delivery. PSHE training is currently limited to a continuing development course for qualified teachers. Trainee teachers are aware of it – you may find a couple of seminars about it on the training course. But though some schools are a bit more organized when it comes to this area, others are less so, and so teaching PSHE falls to teachers who feel ill-equipped to deal with the constant demands of the rapidly changing curriculum. There are proposals to tackle this – but it will take time. PSHE may get the same status as core subjects on paper soon, but it will be a little while before it gains it in practice.

Which leads us to potential doorways for third party involvement. It’s so good to hear that Government is keen for children and young people to learn about how to make and sustain positive relationships. What would be even better would be to hear that they are extolling faith groups as delivering the best holistic sex and relationships education they’ve ever seen. And why shouldn’t it be? As Christians we believe in God in three persons, forming people to be in harmonious relationships with Himself and others. We believe in a God who models what the very best kind of relationship looks like: a relationship that looks on others as created, unique and special beings to be cherished, and that keeps love and sacrifice at its heart. What more positive message can our 5-year-olds hear? Roll on relationships education!

For further information on relationships education, see some of YFC’s resources on sex and relationships. Equally, Oasis Trust offers specialist training in this area, the Oasis Esteem course, and CARE also offers ‘Evaluate – informing choice’ for delivery with Year 7 upwards.