Tightening up government guidance on the RSE materials used in schools
I was pleased to be able to secure a debate in Parliament about the materials used in the teaching of Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in our schools.
In the debate. I raised concerns about whether some of the materials being used - often provided by external organisations - is age appropriate. I know that lots of schools do a brilliant job of delivering RSE, however, it is also the case that parents within Penistone and Stocksbridge, and from across the country, write to me every single week to share their own concerns about the impact that extreme and misleading information in schools is having on their children.
I have, as a result, undertaken extensive research into this matter, and am now calling on the Department for Education to tighten up the guidance about what is 'age appropriate' and to make sure that parents are able to access all resources used in school.
We must never teach relationships and sex education in schools outside the context of respecting parents’ choice and parents’ values. Parents are the people who love and are most invested in children, and theirs are the views that we should most take into account.
I have linked to my speech below, but due to the explicit nature of the information provided I would advise you that it is not suitable for children.
Relationship and Sex Education Materials in Schools | June 30
Let me start with a health warning: my speech is not suitable for children.
That is sadly ironic, given that all of the extreme and inappropriate material I am about to share has already been shared with children in our schools. As a former biology teacher, I have delivered my fair share of sex education. Teaching the facts of life often comes with more than a little embarrassment for teachers and pupils alike. I remember teaching about reproduction when I was about 30 weeks pregnant with my first baby. One child asked me if my husband knew I was pregnant. Another, having watched a video on labour and birth, commented, “Miss, that’s really gonna hurt, you know.”
Just as children do not know about photosynthesis or the digestive system without being taught, neither do they know the facts of reproduction. Thus, it is important that children are taught clearly and truthfully about sex. Of course, there is a lot more to sexual relationships than just anatomy. Many people believe that parents should take the leading role in teaching children about relationships, since one of the main duties of parenting is to pass on wisdom and values to children. Nevertheless, in some families parents cannot or do not teach children about relationships, and it is also sadly the case that the internet now presents children with a vast array of false and damaging information about sex.
There is widespread consensus that schools do have a role to play in relationships and sex education. That is why the Government chose to make the teaching of relationships and sex education compulsory in all secondary schools from September 2020. According to the guidance, the aim was to help children
“manage their academic, personal and social lives in a positive way.”
Less than two years later, my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has written to the Children’s Commissioner asking her for help in supporting schools to teach RSE because we know that the quality of RSE is inconsistent.
The Education Secretary is right that the teaching of sex education is inconsistent. Unlike maths, science or history, there are no widely adopted schemes of work or examinations, so the subject matter and materials vary widely between schools. However, inconsistency should be the least of the Education Secretary’s concerns when we look at the reality of what is being taught. Despite its good intentions, the new RSE framework has opened the floodgates to a whole host of external providers who offer sex education materials to schools. Now, children across the country are being exposed to a plethora of deeply inappropriate, wildly inaccurate, sexually explicit and damaging materials in the name of sex education.