Teachers need more support to teach vital sex education in schools
Helping children understand consent and respect from an early age is crucial in addressing the root causes abusive behaviour. The government must ensure teachers have the resources to effectively teach RSHE.
This year we have sadly seen the horrendous impact that misogynistic and sexist attitudes can have on society.
From the devastating murder of Sarah Everard to the recent shooting in Plymouth, it feels very apparent that much more needs to be done to prevent these atrocities before the attackers reach this point. Furthermore, the Ofsted review in June into reports of sexual abuse in schools showed just how little has changed 5 years on from the Women and Equalities Select Committee Report into Sexual Harassment in schools and just how prominent sexist attitudes are from a young age.
It is right that the government has developed an updated “Tackling Violence against Women and Girls Strategy” in response to these events and that they recognise in that strategy the importance of relationship and sex education.
The truth is Relationship, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) was made compulsory for all children in school 4 years ago following our amendment to the 2017 Children and Social Work Bill. But this legislation is yet to be put fully into practice. At the time, we were delighted the government agreed to adopt our proposal, but we have now written to the Secretary of State for Education about our concerns regarding the lack of support given to schools in rolling out RSHE lessons.
We cannot allow another year to pass where teachers feel totally unsupported in their efforts to teach RSHE
Whether the issue is child abuse or sexual harassment, it has always been clear to us that education is fundamental in prevention. Helping children understand key ideas such as consent and respect from an early age is crucial in addressing the root causes abusive behaviour. It’s so important that children understand what healthy relationships look like so that they don’t replicate inappropriate behaviour themselves, and that they know to tell a trusted adult if they are being abused themselves.
It is particularly important that this education extends to online relationships, too. More and more child abuse is occurring online, especially following the pandemic, therefore it’s vital we equip children to understand what is or isn’t acceptable.
Schools are doing the best that they can, but the government must now listen to children, parents and teachers to ensure RSHE is as effective as possible.
The government has provided some training for teachers, but it is limited in both its scope and reach. Many schools have received no training at all. RSHE is a sensitive and often challenging topic to teach, and teachers require support in how to teach RSHE, as well as the content itself.
Each school is unique. Schools are best placed to identify what they need most, so that they can effectively teach RSHE in the new academic year, and every year after that. In some cases, this may require additional funding and resourcing, and in other cases schools may require more support from the Department for Education to help sequence and timetable these lessons, but the government must recognise its role in ensuring these needs are sufficiently met.
It’s heart-breaking to read about children still being let down by a lack of relationship and sex education, when legislation on this very subject was passed four years ago. The government has had plenty of time to prepare for this.
We cannot allow another year to pass where teachers feel totally unsupported in their efforts to teach RSHE and where pupils turn to social media, pornography or each other, to educate themselves about such complex topics. RSHE has the potential to bring positive change to children’s lives across the country, but only if the government follows through on its responsibility to sufficiently implement it.
Sarah Champion is the Labour MP for Rotherham. Maria Miller is the Conservative MP for Basingstoke.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.