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We need compulsory sex education to tackle children's exposure to misinformation and predators

3 min read

Diana Johnson MP: Sex and Relationship Education should become compulsory in schools to help children deal with the 'wrong messages' that are still prevalent in our society.

I wish it were not the case, but today’s children and young people are becoming more exposed than ever to mixed messages, and wrong advice, when it comes to sex and relationships. 

In the past fortnight alone, two stories have starkly exposed the scale of the problem we face. 

The first came on 20th January, with the release of a shocking survey by the Fawcett Society into people’s perceptions of women. It asked: “if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault, is she totally or partly to blame?” A depressing proportion of people – 38% of men; and 34% of women – said she was.

The second happened on exactly the same day, and attracted huge media coverage. It was the day the world bore witness to the inauguration of President Donald Trump – a man who has personally boasted of sexually assaulting women. This sends an appalling message to young people everywhere.

Sadly, these are not isolated examples of the problems our society is faced with when it comes to sexual attitudes and abuse. In the wake of the child abuse revelations, it is estimated that at any one time, up to 5,000 young people are being sexually exploited. Half of all women, surveys suggest, have been sexually harassed in their workplace. 

Our education system must be at the forefront of addressing these issues. Whether we like it our not, our children are exposed to misinformation, and become vulnerable to predators, at an extremely young age. For example, by the time they leave primary school, the majority of young people will have already seen online pornography. 

Yet for years, the Government has ignored widespread calls to change improve teaching in this area. Only 40% of schools in this country – namely, those secondary schools still controlled by local councils – are required by law to teach any Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) at all. Academies, free schools and primary schools have no such obligation. Even those schools which do teach the subject rarely do it to a good standard, because the Government’s guidance on SRE is seventeen years old.

Because of this, some 81% of teenagers get most of their education on sex and relationships from other, unreliable sources. Nearly all young people (99%) would like to see compulsory SRE in all schools, but one in seven say they got no SRE at all and of those who did, 75% say they did not even learn about consent during lessons.  

Later today, I will open a Parliamentary debate in which I will call on Ministers to make age-appropriate SRE compulsory in all schools. I will also demand they update their guidance and ensure that teachers are properly trained in how to teach SRE. It is now time for the Government to accept reforms, by agreeing amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill which is currently going through Parliament.

Recent events only show that doing nothing is not an option: without taking action in our schools, the wrong messages will continue to be heard loudest of all. Now is the time to give parents, teachers and young people what they want, and invest in good-quality SRE.

Diana Johnson is the Labour Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull North.


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