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Support compulsory, comprehensive sex education


Maria Miller, sex education in schools, compulsory SREWhat will it take for the government to make sex education compulsory in all schools?

Earlier this month, a report published by the Women and Equalities Committee revealed shocking levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools across the UK.

According to the evidence collected, almost a third of 16 – 18 year-old girls say they have been subjected to unwanted touching at school and 71 per cent of boys and girls say they heard terms like “slut” and “slag” directed at girls at school on a regular basis.

And in 2014, 59 per cent of girls and young women said that they had experienced some sort of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year.

To say that these statistics are unacceptable would be a gross understatement.

The report also found shocking inconsistencies in how schools deal with sexual harassment and violence, a disregard for national and international equality obligations, and a lack of guidance and support for teachers.

Maria Miller, MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said: “We have heard girls talk about sexual bullying and abuse as an expected part of their everyday life; with teachers accepting sexual harassment as “just banter”; and parents struggling to know how they can best support their children.

Following the report, MPs and other high-profile figures including Nicola Roberts, an ambassador for children’s charity Barnardo’s, have reiterated the critical need for comprehensive sex education to be made compulsory in all schools.

But earlier this year former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan rejected calls from MPs and four House of Commons committees to make sex and relationship education a mandatory part of the curriculum in all schools, including free schools and academies.

Not only are some children missing out altogether on this vital education, but even those who do get it are being let down.

Unbelievably, government guidance on sex and relationship education (SRE) in English schools hasn’t been updated for sixteen years (!) and makes no reference to pornography – despite evidence that its availability online, and its content, can facilitate harassment and sexual violence.

Sex and relationship education needs to be thorough and cover a wide range of topics, including sexuality, emotional abuse, consent, gender identity, LGBT+ issues, masturbation, and all types of sex, not just penetrative.

As things stand, most teenagers receive a brief lesson on how to put a condom on and how to avoid falling pregnant and catching an STI – and that’s it.

In light of this, is it any wonder that sexual harassment and violence in schools has reached such high levels?

Perhaps if everyone received proper sex and relationship education and were appropriately disciplined for unacceptable behaviour, these issues wouldn’t be so prevalent in wider society.

Perhaps women wouldn’t have to face so much sexism and discrimination once they leave school, and perhaps we would be able to travel by ourselves, to go clubbing, to work, to use public transport, without constantly having to put up with unwanted touching and comments, or worse.

I just hope that the Women and Equalities Committee’s report will serve as the push that the government needs to do the right thing and not only make sex education compulsory in every single school in the country, but also update it and provide more help and support to academic institutions and teachers.

The government, schools and teachers have a responsibility to keep children in the UK safe.

Currently, they are not fulfilling this duty of care, and as a result we are not just failing girls, but all young people.

“It is difficult to explain why any school would allow girls to be subjected to sexual harassment and violent behaviour that has,” Miller pointed out, “been outlawed in the adult workplace.

“The evidence shows it is undermining the confidence of young women,” she continued.

“Failing to reinforce what is acceptable behaviour could well be fuelling the ‘Lad Culture’ that the government has already identified as a problem in colleges and universities.

“Despite this, the Department for Education and OFSTED have no coherent plan to ensure schools tackle the causes and consequences of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

“Too many schools are failing to recognise this as a problem and therefore failing to act.”

Click here to sign the petition to make sex and relationship education compulsory.

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