Yesterday, Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, wrote a letter to fellow conservative MP, Neil Carmichael, outlining why her Government won't be accepting his calls as Chair of the Education Select Committee for compulsory SRE and PSHE.
Perhaps the letter would have been better addressed to the young people of Britain. She could have explained to them why some students, depending on their postcode, their head teacher or the type of school they go to, will be taught how to protect themselves from STIs and some won't. Some will learn about healthy sexual and romantic relationships and some won't. Some will learn vital information about how to avoid getting HIV and some won't. It will continue to be luck of the draw.
We don't think that is good enough.
The Minister's reason for not making SRE and PSHE compulsory is that we don't teach it very well and so statutory status won't make much difference. She's right, in fact Ofsted found that 40% of PSHE teaching (when it is being done) 'isn't good'. But imagine if that was another subject... 'We don't teach science very well, so let's not bother.' It doesn't make a lot of sense.
Nowhere is this lack of education more evident than in the rising numbers of HIV diagnoses we are seeing amongst young gay and bisexual men. In the past 10 years the number of young men diagnosed with HIV has doubled. Yet our survey of 1,000 14-19 year olds who are attracted to other guys found 75% had never received information on relationships and being attracted to other guys and 33% had never received any information about how HIV is passed on.
Access to high quality, relevant PSHE and SRE is even less likely if a young person is LGBT. Instead, young LGBT people are turning to the internet to find out about the kind of relationships they want to have. In fact, our survey found 57% of young gay/bi men used porn to learn about sex. And we know porn isn't the best place to learn about safer sex or realistic relationships.
The Minister says in the letter she will 'carefully consider' updating the official guidance on SRE that was published 15 years ago. But even they can make this meet the needs of LGBT young people, not all schools have to use it.
We think the Government has done a real disservice to the young people of Britain. We cannot continue to play Russian roulette with their health, their wellbeing and their future. The results of which will be seen in STI and HIV diagnoses down the line. Despite this setback, the battle for compulsory PSHE and SRE for all young people, regardless of sexual orientation and identity, will continue. Teachers, MPs and health organisations who are passionate about young people's wellbeing and health will renew their work; we will carry on the fight. Nicky Morgan seems to have given up on getting all schools to take PSHE seriously, but we haven't.