Having been involved in SRE teaching in inner city schools I felt I just had to comment on the story that a new Government programme is expected to be added to the curriculum that will require primary schools to give all pupils sex education lessons under Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education.
In association with a theatre-based project I ran some workshops in schools to discuss the themes of a play. We asked that the groups were no bigger than 20 but instead some schools insisted that the groups should be 50+. In effect it had become a mere tick-box exercise for some schools.
A new report from the Family Education Trust argues “Making PSHE statutory would inevitably reduce the influence of parents over what is taught”. In the report “Too Much, Too Soon”, author Normal Wells (and director of the FET) argues that
“Schools are currently required to consult with parents with regard to their sex education policies and to be sensitive to their wishes.
“However, making PSHE part of the national curriculum would inevitably make schools less accountable to parents in what is a particularly sensitive and controversial”
Now while I agree that parents should be more involved with education, it has to be stated that all parents aren’t trained teachers. And presumably Normal Wells and The Family Education Trust do not hold the same view of religious education in schools which is compulsory and it has to be said, fairly sensitive and controversial. Why don’t we give parents responsibility for their children’s religious education? However I doubt whether Mr Wells would agree with that as he claims that compulsory sex education in schools “raises the very real possibility that some schools would be forced to compromise their beliefs on controversial areas such as contraception, abortion and homosexuality in the name of consistency”. Ah! Never let the facts get in the way of a ‘good’ belief system, eh?
And exactly how are the topics of contraception, abortion and homosexuality connected? They are often trotted out, unchallenged, as the ‘unholy’ trinity. However, they are only connected when you adopt a particular moral standpoint. Then it’s not a question of ‘too much, too soon’ which suggests a developmental argument. The title of the report misdirects in order to sneak in a religious perspective. They are separate arguments, made to look like one.
And why should it be assumed that all parents are comfortable talking about sex when they may have had very little formal education on the topic. So, where’s the objection to balanced lessons on sex education being taught in the classroom, by qualified teachers with knowledge of key stages in learning development? That’s what they are trained for! Surely, professionally planned and delivered sex education will enrich dialogues between young people and parents.
My own view is that psychology should also be on the curriculum especially developmental psychology so that young people gain some valuable evidence based insights. As an educator, ultimately, I have to be an advocate for education over ignorance every time. The reason why schools should deal with the subjects of sex (and religion) is that they can offer a much broader perspective and employ a host of teaching methods and resources. Sex education should not be a platform for moral crusades. What we need is education without the editorial. The facts of life should be about the facts of life.
My colleague Dr Petra Boynton has writtten an excellent piece on this topic.