An educational note. (tw: mentions of rape, domestic and sexual violence)

To veer off-topic for a post, I’d like to have a bit of a chat about teenagers, SRE & PSHE education. A couple of weeks ago now, the Children and Families Bill was up for new clauses in the House of Parliament. Admittedly, I’m not as up on the political home front as I am elsewhere (so please excuse the lack of correct terminology and feel free to correct), so when I heard about Rt Hon MP Stella Creasey’s draft of an addition centred around the requirements for Personal Social Health Education in the curriculum I was thrilled. I work in the Education system in a state secondary school with recent academy status, primarily with students with Special Educational Needs1. Part of the campaign to get it voted in involved letter writing to your local MP. And so I did. Sadly it didn’t pass, and my local MP voted against.

However, I did receive a letter yesterday from said MP, which left me more confused than satisfied. Whilst the personal signature is a nice thought and I really appreciate a response, reformulating facts about how sex education is already on the curriculum suggested to me that we simply didn’t agree. All the things my MP detailed: the money set aside for local support services for domestic and sexual violence survivors; the greater funding to the PSHE Association; Government campaigns about Teenage Rape Prevention and Teenage Relationship Abuse; these are undoubtedly useful and important. But personally, and professionally, I can tell you that there is a necessity for the guidelines of PSHE education to be expanded and set in the curriculum. It is one thing to give money to external associations and support services, all of which are vital, but if we want to have any shot at real prevention, we need to start discussions at school. As I said in my letter:

“At the moment, sex education is compulsory on the National Curriculum, but this focuses primarily on the mechanics and biology of sex as well as good sexual health. We, at One Billion Rising, want to put discussions of respect, abuse and consent into sex education, as we recognise the invaluable role this plays in our young people’s development with regards to relationships. Of course families play a key role in mentoring children to overcome cultural and social pressures, but high quality sex and relationship education delivered to both boys and girls is also a necessary tool in equipping and empowering young people to cope with the challenges and pressures they face. This should be grounded in a zero tolerance approach to violence against women and girls (and in fact, anyone) that is reinforced throughout schools from the curriculum to behaviour policies. Making Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) part of the curriculum would also guarantee standardised materials and resources being made available for teacher training, improving quality and ensuring future generations are well equipped for the pressures of adolescence.

As someone who works with young people in a co-educational secondary school, I personally see on a daily basis just how vital it is that we start to educate our young people on issues of respect and consent in relationships. Every day I hear conversations between young men where they dissect, insult and disrespect the young women they are involved with. I spend a considerable amount of time trying to minimise this behaviour and discussing with them why they think it’s appropriate. I am also privy to many conversations with young women about the way their male peers treat them, and I am overwhelmed by the barrage of derogatory language used towards girls that won’t engage in or refuse sexual or romantic overtures; and even more appalled by their attitude to those who do. I, and other staff members, fight a constant battle against homophobic taunts, catcalling and derogatory name-calling. However, at the heart of this is simply an issue of confusion and ignorance. These children, our young adults, are not being equipped for the realities of relationships. They are not encouraged, in our current PSHE education, to think about consent and respect when it comes to personal, intimate relationships. They are not encourage to think about how abuse works – the various forms it can take, the havoc it wreaks. They are not encouraged to think about consent when it comes to sex and they are woefully unaware of the age of consent and all that it entails.

This is not just a current problem, but an endemic one. I grew up in your constituency, attending first a small Church of England village primary, before moving on to one of the local girl’s grammar schools. My own SRE education was of little use to me and alarmingly reductive. We had two sessions on sexual health in five years – once in Year 9 and another in Year 11. This gave a brief overview of the existence of STIs and an absolute insistence on using protection. We had two sessions where we discussed rape and sexual violence, but the advice given was “don’t drink, don’t get in an unregistered taxi and don’t go out in a short skirt” during a talk from a local police officer. We never discussed the fact that most sexual assaults are perpetrated not by strangers, but by those we know and close to home. We never discussed how to recognise abuse, whether it be verbal, emotional or physical. We never discussed sexuality and gender identity, though I know for a fact that it was something many students struggled with.

The argument is often that children are too young to be exposed to such issues but I am telling you, both as someone whose teenage years are still in sharp relief, and as someone who works with this generation of teenagers, that these issues are very much relevant…We need to teach our young people about the importance of consent, that another person’s body is not merely for your gratification or consumption. We need to teach them about forms of abuse, to ensure they have the chance of finding the strength to report it. We need to teach our young people to respect their bodies, boundaries and each other. These are subjects that need to be discussed openly and honestly at school. Schools are there to provide education and ensure that their students are at their best equipped for the adult world. The adult world reaches children and young people faster than we think and perhaps faster than we would like. But we are failing them if we fail to educate them properly on these matters.”

1more on the SEN plans and adjustments at a later date folks

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “An educational note. (tw: mentions of rape, domestic and sexual violence)

  1. This is a wonderful letter and I’m very glad to know that someone like you is working with our teenagers. You will make a difference. You already make a difference.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s