THE BLOG

Teaching Sex In Primary Schools

31/01/2014 10:49 GMT | Updated 31/03/2014 10:59 BST

It doesn't happen.

Sex and relationship education (SRE) that is taught in primary schools (ages 4-11) is point blank not about teaching young children how to have sex. It is about giving age-appropriate information that is evidence-based on the issues that SRE encompasses.

It also doesn't happen because the last two governments have failed to respond to overwhelming evidence that SRE is crucial and a basic right for children. It is necessary to provide children with the knowledge to apply in their lives to make the best of their time. Without providing this information how can we expect children and young people to make healthy decisions? It is no wonder that Britain has such a high rate of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and increased prevalence of body image disorders. In the same way that we take reading and writing skills for granted as basic abilities that are crucial for a successful life, so should we regard SRE. We are letting society down by not helping educate children to be respectful of others. Every day sexism and harassment is a real issue. It may not affect you personally but it certainly affects many women.

SRE is not the only way to tackle such wide issues in society, but there is no doubt that it is helpful and a beneficial addition that is warranted. Bringing SRE into statutory law would not be fool proof just as no law is, but the lack of support in the House of Lords in Tuesday 28th January's vote highlighted many issues that are not being addressed. Rational arguments were made to teach issues such as consent in efforts to reduce sexual violence but they fell on deaf and stubborn ears.

SRE also certainly takes into account religious beliefs and cultural morals. High quality SRE deals in providing facts and information about the world around everyone, from which no community of people in the modern world is separate. Some people do believe in no sex before marriage or anticipates SRE contradicts them. However, learning what consent is, how to put a condom on a plastic penis, learning about sexuality of yourself, and others, is not in violation in respect to those people. There are plenty of religious doctors who deal in intimate knowledge and handling of patients. Learning information is just not sacrilege in any way and research does highlight that SRE leads to young people having safer sex and also having sex at an older age.

Of course SRE needs to be taught to a decent standard and that needs to be regulated and enforced. Schools across the UK have differing standards in every area of curriculum and that will most certainly apply to statutory SRE too. Teachers would need training to be comfortable in the material, but examples from other European countries like Denmark, show that this is achievable. The fact that Ofsted found that as many as 40% required improvement or was inadequate in delivering PSHE, displays a need to improve their SRE provision. The story is not better in other countries in Britain either.

Age appropriate SRE means teaching young children about what puberty involves at the right time in their lives. Many in primary school will be experiencing the first signs of bodily changes and need help in how to deal with this mentally and socially. Contrarily, SRE will not teach STI information until secondary school when the complexities of understanding infection and symptoms will be more able to be understood. More than ever, children and young people need help to make sense of the fast changes that technology provides in 'sexting' and cyberbullying.

Of course there is a need for parents to be involved, that is important, but not all parents know the correct information on STIs, abortions and promoting positive body image. Even if they do know, not all parents are willing to talk to their child about it, nor might the child be willing to talk back about these vital issues with their parents. What is needed is a standard core of information given at school level that will prepare children and young people to seek out further information, if they wish, from reliable sources rather than resorting to pornography, friends who may also be clueless or social media.

Teachers are professionals who are equipped with the ability to deliver high quality education and having a basis of lesson formats that have been produced by expert groups (Brook, PSHE Association and the members of Sex Education Forum) will prove of great value. This basis then allows teachers to add and emphasise certain lessons that are suitable to the catchment area that they serve, while still covering all aspects that are deemed crucial to forming a healthy individual. All efforts to improve education, and therefore society, should be taken. In this endeavour, SRE that provides life-long lessons is central. Education should not just build up young people towards a job, but make the most of their lives by facilitating relationships that is a life-long fundamental element of humans as social animals.