Today, along with Mumsnet, Girlguiding, the Everyday Sexism Project and MPs from across the political spectrum, I co-signed a letter to the Education Secretary Justine Greening, calling on her to "...bring forward legislation that will help give young people the knowledge and skills to have respectful, healthy loving relationships throughout their lives."
In light of school leaders reporting 'endemic levels' of sexting, and following on from the long-standing campaign for a PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) Bill, today's Valentine's Day letter calls for SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) to be an entitlement for all children.
There is a buzz about this issue as it looks like we might, at long last, get some action from Ministers. There is currently a cross party amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, led by backbench Tories David Burrowes MP and the Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee Maria Miller MP. This comes after no fewer than five influential Select Committee Chairs called on the Government before Christmas, to back my PSHE Bill.
Conservative backbench support is vital if we are to get some change, and the Burrowes/Miller amendments, New clauses five and six, could amount to the biggest overhaul of sex education for 17 years. However, whilst I have added my backing to the amendments to show my support for an urgent 'upgrade' of sex education - the amendments are not perfect and it is important that we have a full debate about the further changes needed.
Firstly, as it stands, the amendment appears to create a whole new subject - relationships education - when what we really need is a whole school approach to PSHE, with SRE as an integral part - that would make implementation much easier.
And secondly, there is a real concern that the amendment repeats outdated language that, sadly, still exists in our current legislation, which talks of 'protecting' children from material that is not appropriate to their age or 'religious background'. Whilst I back the laudable overall objective of the amendment for urgent action on SRE, I have tabled an additional amendment to make it clear that this language should be removed and should have no place in modern legislation. My amendment removes that language and replaces it with a positive statement about the need for relationships education to be age appropriate, accurate and balanced, factual and evidence based, and in line with the Equality Act 2010.
It feels like we are at a cross roads in this long-fought campaign to give children their right to PSHE and SRE. I hope that Justine Greening will act on this Valentine's Day message and make the case to the Prime Minister that what we really need is a PSHE Bill, so that this desperately needed change can be delivered in a coherent and comprehensive way. It is vital that provision is statutory and covers all ages and all schools. Updated guidance alone will not be good enough. This must be an entitlement for every child.