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Young people – want better relationships education? Time to speak up!

October 25th, 2010

Dr Petra

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As we already are sadly aware, the future of sex education in the UK remains unclear. Despite promises for sex education to be statutory and numerous consultations and reviews on the issue (including those by Ofsted, NICE and the Department of Education) we are still waiting to hear what is going to happen regarding sex education within schools.

Last week’s spending review indicated there will be cuts to many budgets affecting young people – not least around local government which often covers youth services and resources. Not just providing sex education but delivering activities and support for young people – and importantly giving them activities, goals and aspirations. Current cuts look set to discriminate against the poorest in society and in such times of economic austerity we can expect to see sex and relationships education fall off the radar. Indeed it may be deliberately ignored as might service provision for reproductive and GU services.

None of which is good news for young people, parents, teachers or health care providers.

Predictably within debates on the future of sex education it’s been young people’s voices that are largely absent. Last week saw the launch of a new campaign from the NCB’s Sex Education Forum encouraging young people to speak up for relationships education. Their Youth Advocacy campaign asks “Are you happy with the sex and relationships education (SRE) you have received? If not, it helps to know what you can do to make a difference in your local area. Read on to learn more about your rights, get top tips and resources, and find out about other young people like you who have made a difference”. Their website includes resources, films and materials to enable young people to campaign for better sex education. I’d encourage young people, teachers, parents, youth workers and other advocates to use these resources to push for quality relationships education in school, at home, and in other youth services.

Simply providing more sex education isn’t the answer
(and seems unlikely to happen anyway). What we need is quality, evidence based and appropriately tailored programmes that focus on relationships, communication, confidence and respect – and are inclusive of young people, not imposed in a top down manner.

Housing, education, poverty and family support are also crucial. It doesn’t matter if we provide great relationships education if young people are not getting good overall education, lack hobbies and activities to enjoy, or are living in poor housing or on low incomes. While we focus on keeping relationships education as an important issue we cannot lose sight of these equally necessary factors that impact on young people’s lives – and that of their parents.

I’ll keep you updated on where things stand with sex/relationships education and will be creating resources for parents and teachers over the coming months (as it looks like we’ll be having to take more responsibility to tackle relationships education on budget and without national or local government support). In the meantime let’s look to young people to keep this issue in focus, and to campaign more widely for their rights to safe, happy and healthy childhoods.

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