On Monday, there will be a vote on an amendment to the Children & Families Bill to include Sex & Relationship Education in the national curriculum. If the amendment is carried, it will go into the bill.
Why is it so important?
Currently, sex education is compulsory on the national curriculum, but it focuses primarily on the mechanics and biological aspects of sex, as well as focusing on good sexual health. This amendment "puts the R into sex education" - families can and do play a key role in educating children, but high quality sex education delivered to both boys and girls is a vital tool in empowering young people to overcome societal and cultural pressures around sex education and consent. Sex education isn't just about the biology of sex- it is important that young people learn about the societal aspects of sex and sex in relationships, and particularly about consent.
The programme of sex education delivered in schools should be grounded in a zero tolerance approach to violence against women and girls. By including this amendment in the overall bill, it ensures that schools will be given the resources and materials necessary to adequately equip teachers to carry out the education effectively.
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Stella Creasy said that it is essential we teach children about consent- there have been repeated calls for it and still nothing has been done. It's important not only for young people to know about the biological aspect of sex, but to respect one another and have healthy relationships. Essentially, it's time to put consent on the curriculum.
My experience of sex education is probably quite different to that of young people in England and Wales- and unfortunately this bill doesn't extend to Northern Ireland. However, I believe it's essential that we should be pushing MPs to vote for the amendment, regardless of whether or not it affects our own constituency.
The sex education in Northern Ireland is unsurprisingly strongly influenced by the highly conservative, anti-women, anti-LGBT culture we live in. I didn't receive any sex education. Instead, we had 'social education', where at the age of 12 we were awkwardly talked to about periods and where babies come from. I went to an all girls Catholic school- the most adequate education I received about contraception was in my GCSE Biology class (and when my friend first told me about the implant, I thought she was making it up- which is funny now, but at the age of 15 or 16 with the little education I got, it probably isn't that uncommon amongst students in Catholic schools).
This bill won't cover Northern Ireland, which is already a good few steps behind the UK on a number of important issues, but it will introduce the issue of consent into schools in England and Wales and this is a massive, much-needed step forward. It means that, eventually, a similar kind of thing will be introduced into Northern Ireland, despite the fact that it will probably not be for many years.
You can search for your MP here, and contact them ahead of the vote on the amendment tomorrow. It's time to put consent on the curriculum, and tomorrow is an opportunity to do just that.
(This post originally appeared on Aisling's personal blog, which can be accessed here).