Birds and the Bees?

By Anna Shepherd

ONE of the biggest obstacles still to overcome in the education of young people is teaching them in the classroom about the birds and the bees.

The argument goes that ignorance among young people about such matters is borne out by the the fact that there is still no legal obligation on schools to teach youngsters on the broader topic and more pressing topic of sex and relationships.

In an attempt to address this issue, an opposition amendment was introduced at last month’s third reading of the Children and Families Bill, in the House of Commons, which would have made it a part of national curriculum. However, it was defeated

The defeat was a setback for the mandatory introduction of this form of education in every school to reduce the amount of ignorance among young people which leads to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases(STI).

It also flew in the face of parents who in a recent poll showed that 88 per cent of one thousand questioned, said sex and relationships should be made mandatory in schools.

The continued level of ignorance shows up in a variety of surveys including one in 2010 which revealed that 32 per cent of young people had either found information they had received on sex and relationships unhelpful, or had received no such information at all.

This is particularly concerning in the light of earlier findings in 2006, where 31 per cent of year 10 pupils did not correctly identify chlamydia as an sexually transmitted disease

What is worrying is that this trend has continued with figures for 2012, which showed that the under 25’s experienced the highest STI rates, including 64 per cent with chlamydia and 54 per cent of the total getting genital warts.

As the legislation currently stands the Education Act (1996) and the Learning and Skills Act (2010), provides compulsory teaching to all pupils of primary and secondary age of the biological aspects of sex education such as puberty, reproduction and the transmission of viruses as well as an additional requirement for pupils of secondary age to be taught about HIV, AIDS and STIs.

However, the broader topic of sex and relationships, is not compulsory and falls under the umbrella of non-statutory education. This allows schools to ‘opt-out’ of teaching pupils about vital aspects of sex and relationships, including contraception and the emotional aspect of relationships.

Following a recent Department for Education review, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Elizabeth Truss, stated that the government considered it ‘unnecessary to provide new standardised frameworks’ and that teacher are best placed the understand the needs of their pupils and do need additional central prescription’.

Simon Blake, chief executive of sexual health charity Brook, responded that ‘clearly the Department for Education has not been looking at the same evidence as the rest of us or listening to the views of children and young people themselves’.

Blake stressed with the vital need for schools support children and young people in ‘negotiating real life pressures like body image, sexual pressure, relationships, violence and consent’.

The question Is, is the government truly reflecting the opinion of young people themselves and even of their parents. My fear is that the teaching of sexual education in functional terms risks overlooking some of the more crucial issues such as abuse and consent.

In my view the government is missing a golden opportunity to help ensure the improved health, knowledge and safety of all young people in this country.