May 20th, 2010
We are now settling into a new government and the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition has led to a number of questions being asked about sex education. Specifically people are wanting to know what is the fate of school based sex and relationships education in the UK.
Currently there is no provision for statutory sex education in the UK. This is due to pressure from the Conservatives to prevent sex education becoming statutory and the then Labour government’s capitulation.
This was a great disappointment to campaigners who had hoped to ensure schools would be delivering sex education as a compulsory part of the school curriculum from 2011.
Given the Conservatives were active in blocking statutory sex education and have consistently had a record of opposing this issue, there is concern about what they may decide to do now. This is a particular worry given the previous Conservative government’s poor track record on addressing sexuality and opposition among its membership to supporting reproductive health services and being pro life.
The Liberal Democrats, by contrast, have a more positive approach to sex education generally, but how they will act in relation to the Conservatives is unclear. Labour as opposition party may well prove to find some more gumption to push for sex education – particularly since they let us down on this when in office.
So what may happen next?
We could see sex education become more restricted, particularly if faith schools are given more powers. That may mean schools are able to promote speakers discussing abstinence or decrying homosexuality or abortion.
We could see sex education continue as it is, haphazardly delivered with some areas being offered excellent information that moves beyond just biology and others getting poor sex education.
Or we could see a push to improving what is on offer and encouraging more joined up services and standards of teaching, and possibly another attempt to make sex education statutory.
My hunch is it will be most likely we’ll see few immediate changes but there may be some restrictions imposed. This means we’ll have some very good examples of teaching provided, but some poor or non existent coverage and no real assessment of external speakers coming to schools or vetting on messages they give. In such a situation improving practice, placing evidence at the centre and empowering young people and practitioners will not be a priority.
From talking to teachers, healthcare staff and charities offering sex education/reproductive health care the current feeling is people are continuing to offer the care and teaching they have previously offered but will be carefully watching to see what comes next.
We have recently heard that teachers do feel anxious about delivering sex education, and we know parents remain interested in delivering this support to young people but don’t always feel confident to do so. Being able to support parents, teachers and healthcare staff will be essential if we don’t have the promise of statutory sex education. However how far we are able to do this is unclear given we are anticipating large scale cuts to education and healthcare. While there are plenty of skilled trainers who’re happy to continue offering support it is going to be difficult to deliver this if funds are reduced.
I will be posting more information in the coming weeks about how we can stand up for sex education and I will be closely watching political developments and reporting on them here.
While our political landscape has changed considerably what hasn’t changed are the needs of children and teenagers who still need access to information and services. So regardless of who is in power our responsibility to enabling young people to enjoy happy and healthy relationships remains a priority.Tweet