Memorandum submitted by the Family Planning Association (FPA) (CS 03)

 

1. Introduction

 

1.1 FPA is one of the UK's leading sexual health charities. Our mission is to help establish a society in which everyone has positive, informed and non-judgmental attitudes to sex and relationships; where everyone can make informed choices about sex and reproduction so that they can enjoy sexual health free from prejudice and harm.

 

1.2 We have restricted this memorandum to our areas of knowledge and expertise and focus solely on clauses 10 to 14 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill which relate to Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education and sex and relationships education (SRE).

 

1.3 FPA supports these clauses as we believe all young people have a right to information about sex and relationships to enable them to make safe and informed choices as they grow up.

 

1.4 High quality sex and relationships education does not make young people more likely to become sexually active; it can actually lead to them have sex later, especially when linked to confidential advice services. In addition, it can help to protect them from abuse or exploitation by equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to identify appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, be able to resist pressure and know where to go for help when they need it.

 

2. Current situation

 

2.1 Sex and relationships education is learning about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up relationships, human sexuality, sex and sexual health. It should equip children and young people with the information, skills and positive values to enable them to have safe, fulfilling relationships and to take responsibility for their sexual health and wellbeing.

 

2.2 Currently, the only elements of sex and relationships education that are compulsory are mainly delivered through the science curriculum. This is not meeting young people's needs and many of them say the information they do receive at school is too little, too late and too biological.

 

2.3 A survey of over 20,000 young people conducted by the UK Youth Parliament in 2006-07 found that nationally 40 per cent of young people aged 11-18 rated the sex and relationships education they had received at school as either poor or very poor and a further 33 per cent rated it as average. The survey also found that 61 per cent of boys and 70 per cent of girls over the age of 17 reported not having received any information about personal relationships at school; overall 43 per cent of all the young people surveyed stated that they had not been taught about personal relationships at school[1].

 

2.4 The quality of SRE delivered in schools also varies a great deal, which is unacceptable. We believe that all children and young people have a right to high quality, comprehensive sex and relationships education wherever they live. The non-statutory nature of SRE means that it is currently not given sufficient time or resources and is often delivered by teachers without specialist training who are uncomfortable with the topic.

 

2.5 Making SRE statutory would provide an opportunity for all children and young people to learn about and discuss relationships, values, attitudes and emotions, which are currently missing.

 

3. Impact of SRE on children and young people

 

3.1 FPA has long campaigned for sex and relationships education to be a compulsory part of the National Curriculum at all key stages. We believe it is vitally important to educate people about sex and relationships, to ensure that they have all of the information and advice they need to explore, develop and express their own sexuality safely.

 

3.2 Children and young people pick up messages about sexuality and relationships from a young age and from a variety of sources, including their parents, their friends, television, and the internet. Not all of this information is accurate and FPA believes that school-based SRE can play a significant role in providing children and young people with accurate and objective information which can enable them to make informed choices about their health and wellbeing as they grow up.

 

3.3 Consequently, FPA supports the provisions of the Children, Schools and Families Bill to introduce statutory sex and relationships education. We welcome the fact that the Bill is drafted to ensure that all young people will have an entitlement to receive at least one year of sex and relationships education in school.

 

3.4 Concerns are sometimes expressed that talking to young people about sex and relationships and SRE sexualises them and encourages them to become sexually active. High quality SRE does not make young people more likely to have sex. In fact, it can actually lead them to have sex later, especially when linked to confidential advice services.[2] In addition, SRE enables young people to make informed choices about their sexual health; high quality school based SRE has been found to lead to a reduction in teenage pregnancy and STIs rates amongst young people.[3] Children and young people need good quality information to provide a balance and challenge to the wide variety of misleading messages about body image, sex and relationships they receive from the media.

 

3.5 Good quality SRE is age-appropriate and this is set out in the current draft of the Bill. Learning about growing up and relationships needs to start at a young age to establish the foundations for later learning and to normalise topics. This early learning will cover topics such as understanding relationships with family and friends; respect for self, others and diversity; understanding growing up and puberty; being healthy; and staying safe.

 

3.6 High quality SRE can help to protect children and young people from abuse or exploitation by equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to identify appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, be able to resist pressure, and know who to go to for help if and they need it. For younger children this will mean they are able to identify and report inappropriate touch or abuse, while for older young people it will help them to resist pressure and make safe choices about sex.

 

3.7 SRE should not be values-free and most schools deliver SRE within a moral framework. An Ofsted report into the delivery of SRE, which was published in 2002, stated: 'Schools almost always set their SRE programmes within an explicit moral framework governing relationships and behaviour. They are often successful in giving pupils opportunities in SRE lessons to explore their values and attitudes and to consider how they and others are affected by them. Where lessons are less effective, this is most often because the teacher talks about what is considered to be the right attitude without giving the pupils the opportunity to debate it, to make their own views known and to explore contradictions and disagreements'.[4]

 

 

4. Parents

 

4.1 FPA believes that parents have a key role to play in providing sex and relationships education for their children. We believe that the provision of SRE should be a partnership between parents and schools. We are aware that many parents are unsure how to speak to their children about issues associated with sex and relationships and there can be a great deal of embarrassment about the topic among both parents and children. FPA delivers a community based education programme for parents and carers called Speakeasy, which is aimed at enabling them to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to talk to their children about growing up, sex and relationships.

 

4.2 However, it is important to recognise that some parents and carers will be unable or unwilling to talk to their children about these issues and it is vital that these young people still receive high quality information about sex and relationships. In 2007, Ofsted produced a report on Personal, Social and Health Education, which stated that: 'Parents' greatest challenge is to set clear expectations, and to be aware of and to accept responsibility for their children's behaviour. Some parents do not rise to this challenge. Pupils look to schools for help, hence the importance of high quality PSHE'.[5]

 

4.3 Parents are supportive of statutory SRE. In a survey conducted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in October 2009, 81 per cent of parents agreed that all children and young people should attend mandatory sex and relationships education lessons. Our experience of delivering the Speakeasy programme is that many parents are unaware of how limited the statutory SRE curriculum currently is.

 

4.4 Very few parents currently withdraw their children from SRE. When schools engage parents as partners in delivering SRE and ensure that parents are fully aware of what schools are teaching, not only are they very supportive, they are also better equipped to talk to their children at home and to reinforce their learning.

 

 

January 2010



[1] UK Youth Parliament, SRE: Are You Getting It? (London: UK Youth Parliament, 2007)

[2] Swann C et al, Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood: A Review of Reviews, Evidence Briefing (London: Health Development Agency, 2003)

[3] Department for Education and Skills, Teenage Pregnancy Next Steps: Guidance for Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts on Effective Delivery of Local Strategies (London: DfES, 2006)

[4] Ofsted, Sex and Relationships Education in Schools (London: Ofsted, 2002)

[5] Ofsted, Time for change? Personal, Social and Health Education (London: Ofsted, 2007)