Results of a new study 'Heads or tails? What young people are telling us about SRE', published by the Sex Education Forum this week in advance of today's second reading of Personal Social Health and Economic Education (PSHE) Bill were illuminating in their findings. However for Terrence Higgins Trust a key detail in the breakdown of respondents strengthened our core criticism of the current content of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in our schools.
Of 2,326 respondents, aged 11-25, 4.5 per cent identified as trans, non-binary, or other. This is a realistic representation of today's society, yet it is rarely acknowledged in our classrooms. Gender identity and sexuality issues are not a required part of SRE. Last year's study by National Union of Students revealed that of 2,000 Fresher's surveyed, a mere five per cent had touched on LGBT in their SRE.
We are failing our children on a daily basis by swaddling them in biology, when real life is so much more than that. Ofsted has said that over a third of schools do not provide good quality SRE. This needs to change. If SRE is made compulsory in all schools, it will be treated as other subjects, with teachers getting the training they need, enough time being allocated in timetables for the subject to address real life issues, including LGBT, gender identity, respectful relationships, and consent.
Government guidance on SRE is based on outdated information, published 16 years ago. It predates the growth of the internet as a source of information used by young people, with inherent risks around accuracy. Proper up-to-date guidance for schools, and more communication across education badly needed, so that standards can be driven up, and we can reflect real life in our classrooms.
Just last week we welcomed the first report by MPs on transgender issues, which found that "high levels of transphobia are experienced by [transgender] individuals on a daily basis". The review recommended that gender should be based on self-declaration and the option to record gender as 'X' on a passport. It also recommended training for police officers and school staff on transgender issues.
Earlier this month MPs from across the political spectrum joined forces in calling for SRE. The four select committee chairs wrote a joint letter urging the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, to make SRE statutory in all schools. Right now SRE is not statutory in all schools, only in maintained secondary schools. This excludes the growing number of academies and free schools, let alone primary schools. Universal statutory status for SRE in all schools is essential.
Today the PSHE Education Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons. If passed into legislation, it would require the Education Secretary to ensure that PSHE becomes a statutory requirement for all state-funded schools.
It also includes provision that SRE and "education on ending violence against women and girls" be included within school PSHE programmes, and states that training for teachers and guidance on best practice for delivering and inspecting is strong across a wide range of organisations, including End Violence Against Women, Mumsnet, the National Union of Teachers, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), Stonewall, and the Royal College of Nursing.
Sex and Relationships Education should be a right for everybody. If we ignore the inadequacies of the current system then we are accepting that we are sending young people into the world ill-prepared for real life. Join our campaign and call on your MP to ask for statutory SRE - it takes less than a minute and is the most effective way of lobbying for change.