Sex and relationships education (SRE) is a topic I’ve returned to on several occasions in SecEd because, and I speak from personal experience, it’s a subject that teachers often feel inadequately prepared to teach and for which guidance is lacking.
Simply put, the current advice from the Department for Education (DfE), to which all state-funded schools must pay “due regard”, is behind the times. Published in 2000, it fails to support teachers in making SRE relevant to children and young people who have grown up with the internet.
However, an invaluable supplement to the DfE guidance has been published by three charities with expertise in SRE – Brook, the PSHE Association and the Sex Education Forum – addressing important issues relating to sex and relationships that have emerged over the last decade.
Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century seeks to clarify the position of SRE in the curriculum and to answer the questions most often posed by teachers.
It distils guidance from several different government sources to set out clearly what state-funded schools are required to do and what good-quality SRE means in practice. It also spells out the role of SRE in fulfilling schools’ statutory duties to provide a broad and balanced curriculum and to promote pupils’ wellbeing.
The advice looks at questions that SRE teachers and school leaders might not find answers to in the DfE guidance. It considers how SRE can be properly integrated into the school’s PSHE programme and linked with other school subjects.
While science will teach the biological facts relating to human growth, puberty and reproduction, PSHE will encourage pupils to think about the different contexts, influences and beliefs that affect personal behaviour and help children and young people to develop a positive vocabulary and the skills and strategies to stay healthy and safe. But SRE will also link to other subject areas too: such as the ICT/computing curriculum, which can address issues like online safety, and subjects such as citizenship, which can explore the law relating to sex, and RE, which will consider different cultural perspectives.
The advice is unflinching and tackles the most challenging issues that can and should be raised in SRE: for example how to teach children about sexual consent and addressing violence in relationships, and how to discuss the misleading portrayal of sexual relationships found in pornography.
It also explains how to make sure SRE is inclusive. Schools have a clear duty under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that teaching is accessible to all children and young people. Good-quality SRE nurtures skills for respecting and listening to each other, it supports good relations between pupils and the benefits extend to the whole school community as it provides a model for tackling all types of prejudice – including homophobia.
Both special and mainstream schools will need to consider if their SRE is meeting the needs of their pupils – who will have a range of abilities and disabilities, experiences and backgrounds, gender and sexual identities.
In producing the advice, the charities have taken a bold step, outlining how a modern, inclusive and rational SRE programme can meet the needs of pupils. They have made it clear that they hope the DfE will eventually produce its own updated guidance, but for now the feedback is that teachers and school leaders are welcoming this additional support in teaching this essential subject.
Further informationDownload Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century at www.sexeducationforum.org.uk/resources/sre-advice-for-schools.aspx
Dr Hilary Emery is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk