Government announces mandatory sex ed… but LGBT issues are absent
The Education Secretary has announced plans to require sex and relationships education in all schools – but has not yet committed to it being LGBT-inclusive.
Education Secretary Justine Greening confirmed today that she would act to make SRE mandatory in all schools.
At present, sex ed is only required in local authority-run schools, leaving academies, independents and faith schools free to ignore the subject or to teach a narrow version of SRE.
There have been multiple warnings that the system is leading to a lack of basic sex ed among young people, and the government has come under repeated pressure to act on the issue.
However in a written statement Ms Greening confirmed: “I am today announcing my intention to put Relationships and Sex Education on a statutory footing, so every child has access to age appropriate provision, in a consistent way.”
The statement does not address whether the SRE proposals will require schools to teach in an LGBT-inclusive way, given the lack of current teaching on same-sex relationships an other LGBT issues.
Ms Greening did confirm a revamp for the “increasingly outdated” statutory guidance for Sex and Relationships Education, which was last updated in 2000.
The statement confirms that the expanded SRE guidance will address “cyber bullying, ‘sexting’ and staying safe online”, but it is unclear whether teachings on same-sex relationships will also be a part of this guidance.
PinkNews understands a consultation will be held on the substance of the SRE guidance to determine its content, including the inclusion of LGBT issues. Stonewall says it will be “working with the Government to ensure [LGBT issues] are reflected in updated guidance for schools”.
Stonewall Chief Executive Ruth Hunt, said: “This is a huge step forward and a fantastic opportunity to improve inclusion and acceptance in education.
“Currently over half of secondary school students say they never have any discussion of LGBT relationships in their lessons, and over half of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people are bullied in our schools because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That is unacceptable. By mandating all schools to provide good quality, age-appropriate relationships and sex education the Government has paved the way to change that situation.
“This should mean that all schools provide the space to discuss LGBT relationships and the issues LGBT people face, enabling more lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people to feel accepted in their school environment.
“We look forward to working with the Government on updating the guidance for schools to ensure that this measure helps to transform the experience of LGBT young people in all schools.”
Ahead of expected opposition from religious groups, Ms Greening’s statement makes a string of concessions to parents and faith schools.
It states: “Parents will continue to have a right to withdraw their children from sex education. Schools will have flexibility over how they deliver these subjects, so they can develop an integrated approach that is sensitive to the needs of the local community; and, as now, faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith.”
Campaigners have urged the government to commit to LGBT-inclusive SRE in all schools.
David Geary of Pride in London said: “Healthy sex and relationship education cannot be wholly effective until it helps every pupil in the classroom. In continuing to separate, single out and ignore the needs of LGBT+ pupils, the government is helping to cement stigma, self-doubt, confusion and bullying.
“Such an omission lets down pupils right across the country, who need effective and positive support to develop into the healthy, confident and safe LGBT+ adults they deserve to be.
“Parents too benefit from having such a support as they learn to be the best guardian they can be for their LGBT+ child.
“Politicians across the political spectrum have signed the Pride in London Pledge which calls for the inclusion of same-sex relationship education in all London schools to ensure the representation of different families and communities within SRE.”
Ian Green of HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “In order to fully address the sexual and mental health crisis among young people, we will need to ensure that any legislation around SRE has a strong emphasis on neglected topics such as sexual health and on LGBT relationships, in order to tackle high rates of STIs among young people and ongoing homophobia in our school corridors.
“To deliver real change for young people, the government must also ensure teachers get allocated time, resource and training to do justice to this vital subject. With the budget announcement expected next week, now is the time to invest in SRE.
“Only then can we ensure that all young people – wherever they go to school, and whatever their sexuality – are empowered to make positive and informed decisions and to have healthy relationships, which they are ready for, and want.”
The British Humanist Association also voiced concerns with exemptions for religious groups.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: “We welcome the fact that the Government is now taking a first step towards recognising this in law. But it is essential that teaching in all schools is as comprehensive and inclusive of all pupils as possible, and we are concerned that this may well not be the case.
“It is vital that any new requirements are extended to religious schools.
“A child’s access to accurate, evidence-based, and relevant information, designed for the simple purpose of keeping them safe, should not be dependent on their religious or non-religious background, nor on the type of school to which they happen to have been sent.
“It should be clear to everyone that either all children have a right to this education, or no such right exists.”
Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said: “The Secretary of State has yet again failed to clarify whether sex and relationships education will be LGBT+ inclusive.
“The government’s primary concern should be about protecting our young people rather than faith schools, so that every young person can develop positive and healthy relationships free from harassment and violence.
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“We cannot hope to achieve equality if we continue to exclude and marginalise LGBT+ young people.”
Education Secretary Justine Greening said: “Relationships and Sex Education and PSHE teach children and young people how to stay safe and healthy, and how to negotiate some of the personal and social challenges they will face growing up and as adults.
“These subjects form part of the building blocks young people need to thrive in modern Britain. At the moment, too many young people feel they don’t have the relationships and sex education they need to stay safe and navigate becoming an adult.
“It is time to make this change to ensure all children and young people have access to these subjects and to update the current statutory guidance for relationships and sex education which was introduced nearly twenty years ago, in 2000.
“We need high quality, age-appropriate content that relates to the modern world, addressing issues like cyber bullying, ‘sexting’ and internet safety.
“We will now begin a review and gather expert opinions to ensure these subjects really have a positive impact on young people.”