THE BLOG

Tackling Taboos and Keeping Young People Safe: Why We Need Compulsory PSHE Now

22/07/2015 17:53 BST | Updated 22/07/2016 10:59 BST

For those of us campaigning for better sex education and PSHE in schools, the last seven days have brought mixed news.

Good news came in the form of Caroline Lucas' Personal Social Health and Economic Education (PSHE) bill, which passed its first reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday by 183 votes to 44. This is a hugely positive step forward.

The bill calls for PSHE to be made statutory in all state schools in England and Wales and for Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) to be included in the PSHE syllabus.

But less than 24 hours later that new hope was dashed as the government published its delayed, and extremely disappointing, response to the Education Select Committee's report of SRE and PSHE in schools.

In this response the Government chose to ignore the committee's key recommendation to introduce statutory PSHE in schools - a move that would transform the lives of young people across the UK.

An important role of schools is to prepare students to lead happy, healthy lives but Girlguiding's annual Girls' Attitudes Survey, found that only 34% of 16 to 21 year old women feel that the sex education offered to them by their school prepared them well.

PSHE and SRE are both of paramount importance because they teach young people how to deal with issues which affect them. From bullying to identifying signs of abuse in relationships - understanding these issues can have a huge impact on students' own lives and on their personal safety.

We know there is an urgent need to address violence against women and girls and help young people form healthy relationships. Girlguiding's research shows that 35 per cent of young women aged between 11 and 21 know girls who have experienced controlling behaviour from a partner. A fifth of girls say it is acceptable for a partner to shout at you and call you names (21%) or send photos or videos of you to friends without your permission (17%). Expectations about relationships are often formed when girls are teenagers and without the right support, it is all too easy for girls to form unhealthy patterns of behaviour in early relationships that they can take with them into adulthood.

As a society we need to discuss these issues more openly and this begins with the younger generations. The government has the opportunity to teach, inspire and educate a new generation to help end violence against women and girls and yet they are currently choosing not to.

Schools can use PSHE as a way of tackling taboo issues which might not be discussed among teenagers or in wider society but are nonetheless important. For example, we seriously need to start a dialogue about sexual consent in our society. Girlguiding research has found that that teens' understanding of consent is very varying, and both boys and girls can be unaware of when coercion is taking place.

This should, and very easily could, start at a school level with students learning what constitutes sexual consent and the implications and consequences of non-consensual sex.

We need get to past our squeamishness and talk about sex and relationships more openly in our society. If these topics are a taboo, sex education suffers and young people know less and less about the issues that directly affect them, which makes them less able to make good decisions for themselves and ultimately less safe.

If the government wants to address the issue of violence against women and girls, it needs to improve PSHE. If it wants to address issues of homophobia, sexism and other prejudices, it needs to improve PSHE. If the government wants to foster tolerance in our society, it needs to improve PSHE. This is why I support Lucas' bill and would strongly urge others to. If you would like to show your support for the bill then please contact your MP. Together we can make a difference to young people's education and lives and to society.