Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) has always been a delicate issue. Across the country it remains poorly managed, non-representative of social realities and seconded to other subjects. Most importantly, it largely ignores the LGBT community.
Under Theresa May, the Department for Education has ordered a much-needed review into SRE in schools. While that offers a step in the right direction, is this Government really going to end Britain’s archaic approach to sex ed? Probably not.
Sex and Relationship Education has not been touched, for want of a better phrase, for nearly 20 years. Since the turn of the millennium social shifts have been enormous, times have changed and perspectives (largely) liberalised. It is time SRE reflected that.
The May Government has not backed away from the sex-ed issue like many of its predecessors. From 2020 it will be mandatory for SRE to be taught in schools. Before that however, the Government has ordered an expansive review of the way it is conducted, consulting young people, parents and teachers in the process.
Instrumental in that review are groups like Stonewall, an LGBT rights charity that was cited as an influence in the draft of the Government’s plan. Stonewall have created a plethora of classroom tasks and scenarios based on same-sex and inclusive relationships.
Branded their ‘Different Families, Same Love’ work, Stonewall aimed to show the Government just how easy it can be to engage students in more equal SRE studies.
So has it all been effective?
That would depend on what you wanted from the May Government in the first place. A state-led overhaul where schools are forced to teach homogenous word-for-word lesson plans is never going to come from Theresa May. From the very start, her Government has devolved education and that is not going to change.
Even within that respect however, for LGBT students the proposals make for sad reading. While it does address things like sexting and online access to pornography, for same-sex issues the draft falls short.
Point 33 of the 38-page document says merely that ‘schools are free to determine how they address LGBT-specific content, but the Department recommends that it is integral throughout the programmes of study’. So, to be frank the Government advocates same-sex teaching in SRE, but won’t force it on schools.
The second and only other comment that teeters around this question is point 71, which says that ‘there should be equal opportunities to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships’. Again, it offers fluffy liberal sentiment, but with no real gumption to enforce it.
For LGBT students and charities like Stonewall this is disappointing. Even though this is only a draft of the plan, two mentions of the LGBT community across 38 detailed pages hardly fills anyone with hope.
It would be naive to suggest that these issues wouldn’t be a difficult thing for certain schools to teach. Faith schools in particular may face significant backlash from parents or homophobic lobbyist groups. The point is clear however that these schools will never change their stance or try to become more inclusive in these areas unless they are forced to.
OFSTED does not currently, and has no plans to, have the power to regulate individual subjects. Without some sort of enforcement and moderation service like this, such schools would never take the decision to consider or include LGBT elements to SRE.
Education of sex and relationships in schools has some catching up to do. In today’s Britain, where the Government recognises Pride as an important national and international event, votes for same-sex marriage and speaks regularly in favour of LGBT rights, the education sector is seriously lagging.
While I don’t pretend that views can change overnight, this review into SRE was an opportunity for the Government to act on their message; to practice what they preach and try, through education, to slowly change the perspectives of many.
It is good that this Government are not scared to tackle sex-ed like previous administrations. The changes they have offered however fall short of the enormous influence they could have had.
Find out more about Stonewall’s work in the classroom here:
Full draft of the Government’s proposals here: