On Monday 25th Feb, the Department for Education released their guidance for schools on the new compulsory curriculum for Relationships and Sex Education.
The curriculum itself breaks down into Relationships Education for primary schools, Relationships and Sex Education for secondary schools and Health Education for all state-funded schools (independent schools already teach Health Education under PSHE requirements).
A previous draft of the guidance, published in July 2018, was subject to an open consultation which Tender contributed to, owing particular thanks to the End Violence Against Women Coalition for sharing their own response with other organisations working towards the prevention of domestic abuse, gendered violence and inequality.
In light of this consultation, the new guidance, published this week, has been much anticipated by Tender, and we welcome many improvements from the version consulted on last year. These include (but are not limited to):
Whilst we are extremely heartened to see these recommendations included in the new guidance, we also agree with other organisations in our sector that there could still be improvements, particularly in that the document still retains a worrying level of ambiguity regarding how and if certain issues are taught. For example, the deference to schools to determine when it is “appropriate” to teach about the existence of LGBT+ relationships is a caveat which risks both an inconsistency of knowledge and inclusion, and continuing to present these relationships as an “other”, rather than an equal: thus potentially undermining other efforts to prevent trans- and/or homophobic bullying.
We are also disappointed that FGM – a form of abuse most commonly inflicted on victims when they are of primary-school age – is still not required to be taught in primary schools, nor is the issue of forced marriage, despite the availability of effective, age-appropriate resources and training available, and the devastating impact these practices have on girls’ lives.
Tender is, however, optimistic for the potential that the new curriculum has to support teachers, parents and, most importantly, young people, to promote positive, healthy relationships based on equality and respect. There are often concerns that Relationships and Sex Education may encourage children to seek out sexual experiences before they are ready, when research has in fact proven the opposite: high-quality teaching empowers young people to make safer, more informed choices about relationships and thus usually delays their first experience of sex. Denying children this education increases the likelihood that they will seek information about these topics elsewhere and from potentially unsafe and unreliable sources such as social media and pornography: putting them at further risk of grooming, bullying and exploitation.
High-quality relationships and sex education which promotes empathy, equality and respect plays a vital role in safeguarding children and supporting parents and carers to raise confident, compassionate members of our society who are prepared for and can thrive in life: and Tender looks forward to playing a key role in that support.