THE BLOG

A Step Forward on Sex and Relationship Education Is Long Overdue

26/02/2015 09:18 GMT | Updated 27/04/2015 10:59 BST

Take a look at PMQs: just daring to be a woman can draw an audible mutter. Dare to be a woman and mention sex and you've really done it - the red-faced buffoonery lets rip in earnest.

In the past, voices calling for improved Sex Ed in schools have found themselves drowned out by the panicked yelps of (usually Conservative) MPs urging a return to rose-tinted times gone by. A time BSE: Before Sex Education. But the debate is shifting because it's plain that a significant number of our kids are being let down.

There is some great practice in some of our schools but Ofsted say 40% of our classrooms aren't keeping up. Which is little wonder with Parliament lagging so far behind - the latest guidance on sex and relationships education (SRE) was produced 14 years ago by the Department for Education, before Facebook was even conceived and mobile phones were roughly the size of a cat and about as good at internet-browsing.

A step forward is long overdue. It's time to shake the sand from our ears, take a collective breath, and check our classroom compass.

Contrary to the panic-inducing media headlines, young people today are generally drinking less, smoking less, and getting pregnant less.

But they are tasked with navigating a landscape far more complex and challenging than any we've known. Their digital sphere - bursting with opportunities as it is - has a dark side. Online porn is daily bread and there's enormous pressure to publish all that was once private. Recent international research by the University of Bristol shows that almost half of 13-17 year old girls being coerced into sex acts and are sending and receiving sexual images.

Better Sex and Relationships Ed is crucial. But we need to go further still.

This Friday, my private member's bill to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education statutory in all state-funded schools is due its second reading in the House of Commons.

The Bill will include sex and relationships education (SRE) as a core part of it, and compulsory part of the curriculum.

The importance of ensuring every child has access to education around sex, health and relationships - as well as teaching on everything from life-saving CPR to how to be responsible with money - can barely be overstated. PSHE is about more than sex ed - it's about relationships, respect and responsibilities. It's about age-appropriate, fit-for-purpose, whole person education and it's more important than ever.

The world's moved on, and so must our education policies. Parents, teachers and pupils agree. My Bill has gained unprecedented grassroots and cross-party momentum - backed by the likes of End Violence Against Women, the NUT and NAHT to Stonewall, the Royal College of Nurses and the PSHE Association - because they recognise the lifelong benefits the subject.

We must equip our kids them with the tools they need for life - keeping them ignorant puts them at risk. Our children deserve the very best education. And our teachers deserve the very best support in giving it to them.

But as long as PSHE remains a non-statutory subject, with a low priority in the Ofsted framework, there'll be virtually no coverage of it in teacher training. In school, PSHE teachers are not given the curriculum time, training or resources they need.

Lessons which help keep young people safe, healthy and happy shouldn't be an optional 'bolt on' or a postcode lottery.

Where good PSHE teaching happens, the benefits shine through.

In my Brighton constituency, Patcham High has adopted a whole-school approach to PSHE, backed by the full commitment of the head and staff. Pupils at Patcham learn to debate sensitive and difficult subjects, with each other and their teachers, in a thoughtful and intelligent way. Issues like mental ill-health, emotional bullying and relationship abuse are discussed, using creative and engaging teaching tools. The school facilitates pupils' consideration of complicated issues and, crucially, helps them to think for themselves. No brushing of important and controversial matters under the carpet there.

I believe every child should have that same chance.

But under current policies, not every child does.

Running on Westminster time, there's every chance my Bill won't get its hearing on Friday. But it's got us talking and Tweeting and working together - and the debate has moved forward leaps and bounds.

This month, the cross-party Education Committee's new report - Life Lessons: PSHE and SRE in Schools - echoed our call for statutory status, and not just for Sex Ed, but specifically for PSHE, with SRE as a core part of it.

Even the secretary of state for Education, Nicky Morgan, has agreed PSHE is "exceptionally important" and to look at ways to improve its quality and consistency (a sea change, at least, from her predecessor).

Such increased cross-party consensus is hugely welcome. And in the lead up to an election we have a crucial opportunity to build on the current momentum and get all candidates to pledge their support for statutory PSHE.

If we keep this debate going and keep the pressure on - well then, we might just nail this.

And what a sweet win for common sense that'll be.

Join the debate: #PSHEBill #PSHEforAll #SREitsmyright