P4SRE’s first interview

Today I was interviewed for the first time about P4SRE. It won’t be appearing in the broadsheets any time now, because it is an assignment for a journalism student. I thought her questions were good though and may you have some thoughts on my answers.


1) Do you think there’s a set age at which SRE should start to be taught in schools? (I understand that currently governors decide when SRE is taught, do you think it’s something that should be more set and less varied?)

Ideally sex and relationships education would be part of a statutory curriculum which would set out what information should have been covered within each key stage (primary school is broken up into two key stages and secondary into three). This would allow schools to be flexible about exactly when they taught specific topic areas in line with their knowledge of the pupils ability, understanding and need. To assess this schools should include the views of teachers, parents and also local health providers who have a good understanding of the information needs of the local population. There should be flexibility about exactly when to teach a topic, but not to the extent that schools can opt out of teaching something at all or teach it so late that it’s already irrelevant to the children or young people in the school. Young people often complain that the SRE they have had is too little too late. Young women often didn’t learn about puberty until after they had started their periods. In the later stages of secondary school many students have said that some of their peers are sexually active before they have had a chance to learn about contraception or STI prevention.

2) Do you think people of different religions in schools should be given the same SRE or should it be adapted, for example for Catholic schools?

The curriculum should be based on evidence-based information. All children and young people are entitled to accurate information about their bodies and things that can affect their health and lives. This is explicitly set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is vital that all young people have the knowledge they need to be able to protect their emotional and physical health so it is not fair on our children and young people that we have a two tier system in which some young people can freely access accurate health information and others can’t. There are already Catholic secondary schools which do a good job of talking about contraception and find that they can talk with confidence about what people do if they are trying to protect themselves from pregnancy, but are sexually active – while at the same time emphasising that this is not something which is considered acceptable within their faith. This is perfectly manageable for faith schools and can help their students to become well-informed, empathetic and helpful to others in their community who need this information, even if their faith means that this information doesn’t seem immediately relevant to them. Families are enormously influential when it comes to their children’s beliefs and values and I don’t believe families that have a conservative approach to sex and sexuality have anything to fear from good quality SRE. Children absorb many of their families values almost by osmosis and a few lessons at school are not a threat to that. Moreover, good quality SRE recognises that there are a range of views and values on all aspects of human sexual behaviour, and encourage young people to acknowledge these while also learning to understand that there is some key factual information that underlies all the moral debate.

3) Obviously SRE is something most parents feel strongly about and I’ve seen in the news a lot of parents who feel children should not be taught SRE at all alongside many people with your views. Have a lot of people shown support for your campaign so far?
My campaign is only a few days old. I started it as a counterpoint to all the misinformation that is flying around about parents’ concerns about SRE. Many parents I know are not concerned that their children are learning too much too young, as some would make us believe. Most I know are concerned about how patchy SRE is, how little their children are taught and how ill-equipped they are for adult life as a result. Most parents live in the real world and see the many challenges their children face growing up and want them to be armed with information, confidence and a positive attitude to sex and relationships.
Here are some quotes from parents and grandparents who have signed the P4SRE petition:

‘It’s time a voice was given to the majority view. Children need us to support them in having the best education they possibly can, and that includes good quality SRE.’

‘If there had been such a provision when I was at primary school, I would have known that I was being abused. Schools can break the culture of unhappy family silence. Children need a place where they can feel safe and be believed.’

‘Excellent work guys, so needed in today’s society’

‘Excellent education about relationships and sex is a right and a necessisty for all children and young people’

‘This should be something that parents can take for granted in their childrens’ education.’

‘As mother of an 8 year old girl I believe that providing honest, age-appropriate information about all aspects of life including sex and relationships is a positive part of helping my daughter to grow into a health, well balanced woman.’

Look at the petition page yourself to see more

3) Do you think a lot of teachers would feel uncomfortable teaching this subject to their pupils? I read on your campaign blog that you think teachers should be specially trained to teach SRE, do you mean hire new teachers who are specific SRE teachers or train existing teachers so that they’re better equipped to teach the subject?

Some teachers are completely out of their depths teaching SRE because it’s not something they feel qualified to do and may not have a sense of what vocabulary will be appropriate or comfortable. Plonking a nervous and embarrassed teacher in front of a class is a bad start to a lesson so I do not advocate all teachers having to do this as part of their tutor group work (as is often the case at the moment). Conversely, I have seen many teachers do a brilliant job of teaching SRE, but they are normally individuals who are really motivated and enthusiastic about the subject and have done lots of work themselves to ensure they have accurate information and stimulating and appropriate resources to enable them to engage their students. SRE should have a place in the initial teacher training curriculum if all teachers are going to be expected to teach it, but ideally teachers who are interested in teaching it should be able to self-select and specialise in teaching SRE as part of their teacher training or at least access training as part of their continuing professional development once they start work. Training is only one of the keys to improving provision. Schools need to give SRE more priority than it currently has because teachers will not opt to teach it if it isn’t given sufficient status and value. Teachers also need sufficient time to prepare lessons and enough time in the classroom to make sure SRE is taught well. I have often heard politicians and others say that ‘just making it compulsory will not ensure quality.’ That is true, but the opposite is probably true too. If you don’t make it compulsory there will be no incentive to ensure it’s taught really well.

Have you got any thoughts on these questions or my answers?

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