Skip to content

New plans for school sex education

November 4th, 2005

Dr Petra

New guidance from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for personal, social and health education (PSHE) suggests young people need to be well informed about relationships and sexually transmitted infections by the age of 14.

The guidance outlines what young people should have achieved by each key stage – at ages 7, 11, 14 and 16. However this is still not mandatory for school education so parents will continue to be able to prevent their child from attending sex education classes.

What does the guidance suggest?
Five to seven year olds…
Should be able to discuss and understand differences and similarities in their ‘family circumstances’. They ought to be able to tell who the ‘special people’ are in their lives and respect other people’s different family set-ups.

They’d also start learning about sex differences and reproduction. One suggestion for achieving this is to draw a self-portrait and describe how their different body parts work (with an emphasis on how this makes them ‘special’).

They’ll be taught about healthy eating and lifestyles and the importance of friendship.

Nine to eleven year olds…

Should be able to manage their money and understand financial services.

They should be able to list commonly available legal and illegal drugs.

Fourteen year olds…

Should be able to make informed sex and relationship choices in relation to health, specifically around being informed about sexually transmitted infections. They should be able to define what constitutes a ‘healthy relationship’, as well as discussing media depictions of sex and relationships.

At this age they also ought to be able to ‘tackle prejudice’, make career plans and manage their emotions positively.

Teachers are expected at this age to spend one teaching unit on bullying, linking it to their schools anti-bullying policies.

By age 16…

Young people should be “able to present themselves confidently in a range of situations and respond to pressure”

Whilst these guidelines were created in consultation with parents, young people, teachers and faith groups, there’s an unexplored issue here about what constitutes ‘life skills’, and what roles we’re preparing young people for? There’s a curious mixture of preparedness for ‘healthy’ relationships and a moulding of young people to fit into the workforce, all tied up within a framework of healthcare.

Within all these guidelines are throwaway phrases that sound fantastic but in practice are going to be hard to implement. Things like ‘healthy relationships’, ‘tackle prejudice’, ‘respond to pressure’ are value laden terms that can’t just be put in guidance without any unpacking or discussion.

We know young people are facing issues around peer pressure, coercion, bullying, and media influences. We know many young people do not exercise adequately or eat healthily. There needs to be more than just guidelines, not to mention a whole lot of support for teachers to deal with these problems.

The subtext of these guidelines is positive – it’s one of tolerance and understanding, tackling prejudice and bullying, and accepting difference and diversity. Yet we know that within schools many young people, their parents, school governors, and teachers are not always so open-minded.

It’s great that five to seven year olds could be encouraged to understand different family structures. Yet research on young people shows those who come from ‘different’ backgrounds – single parent families, gay or lesbian parents, or those from ethnic minority backgrounds where the family structure doesn’t match that of the UK norm – often hide or ‘normalise’ their background for fear of recrimination.

For older teenagers the idea of identifying ‘healthy relationships’ is great theoretically but in practice who knows what a ‘healthy’ relationship is? If it’s a case of teaching much needed communication, negotiation and assertiveness skills then this is fantastic. Although we do need to ensure teachers are skilled and supported to do this and time is set aside within the curriculum for this task (which is more than just one teaching session).

Overall, as with any guidelines we need to consider these in relation to the historical, political and economic context in which they were created, and critically evaluate them to uncover exactly what it is we’re preparing our young people for.

And for teachers offer much more support, training and help so that guidelines that could help young people can be implemented.

Comments are closed.