The proposals for compulsory Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) are undoubtedly a huge step forward
Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson and former teacher Layla Moran writes following a recently announced update to the curriculum guidance for Sex and Relationships Education (SRE).
Last week, following cross-party campaigning, the Government published a long-awaited update to the curriculum guidance for Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). And in a rare, but refreshing display of cooperation, these changes were warmly welcomed by all political parties.
It is no exaggeration to say these changes are long overdue. Sex education guidance was last updated in 2000. Which is ludicrous when you think how much has changed for young people in that time. The proliferation of social media and smart phones mean the experiences of a teenager in the year 2000, compared to 2019 are vastly different. Particularly when it comes to navigating issues like sexting, explicit online content and the impact of social media use on mental wellbeing.
Even more ridiculous, is that until these changes, there was no requirement for academies and free schools to even teach sex education. Meaning nearly half of all pupils in England might not get any SRE at all.
While I have been heartened by the cross-party support for these changes, they have of course not been without controversy.
Parents’ groups have raised concerns that the Government’s proposed changes reduce their ability to have their children removed from these lessons. Under these changes, parents will be able to opt their children out of sex education, until the year before they turn 16. While the health and relationships components of this new curriculum will be compulsory throughout primary and secondary school.
Although I wholeheartedly support the rights of parents to practice, and raise their children, in accordance with their faith; as a former teacher, I believe the duty of the education system is to inform and empower young people, enabling them to grow up into happy, healthy and confident adults. It is unthinkable that we can achieve that if we do not give every young person the chance to have open, informed and sensitive discussions about sex, relationships and health as part of the curriculum.
Yes, it is vital that schools reach out to parents to help them understand the content of the new curriculum and engage with them regarding any concerns they have. But I do not think it is right, as campaigners are asking, for some children to be removed from the health and relationships parts of the new curriculum.
It is important that children learn from a young age to understand and be respectful of different families and relationships. And frankly, preventing young people from hearing about sex and relationships within the classroom will not prevent them from hearing about these issues elsewhere.
We are doing children and young people a disservice if we leave them to get all their information on subjects like sex and puberty from playground gossip and unregulated online content. Explaining these issues in a balanced, evidence-based way in the classroom can provide an important counterbalance to these discussions which will happen between young people anyway.
I am delighted that, if properly implemented, these reforms will mean great strides forward in terms of providing young people with proper information on so many of these important issues. The Liberal Democrats have long called for compulsory, age-appropriate SRE to be taught in all schools, as part of a ‘curriculum for life’ that enables young people to thrive in the modern world. Ideally, we would like to see this introduced alongside lessons on important life skills like financial literacy and citizenship. But the proposals for compulsory SRE are undoubtedly a huge step forward, as is the commitment that this new curriculum will include information on mental health and resilience.
What the Government must now give assurances on, is that they will give the teachers who deliver these lessons proper training and continued professional development. It is just as vital that we ensure they feel confident and fully informed to discuss the wide range of crucial issues covered by this new curriculum.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson & MP for Oxford West and Abingdon