As A Teenage Girl, I'm Worried Schools Aren't Taking Sex Education Seriously

A generation of children's sex education will be incomplete if schools prioritise exam results over students’ wellbeing, writes 15-year-old Gemma Tutton.
School teacher teaching students in class, working with tablets
School teacher teaching students in class, working with tablets
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

This week, I’ll be enjoying my first full day back at school in six months. As I start year 11, I am concerned about my GCSEs and how behind I am because of the pandemic.

Mostly though, I worry about the generation of children whose sex education will be incomplete because schools will prioritise exam results over students’ wellbeing.

This September, sex education becomes mandatory in all state-funded schools. This landmark change has taken years of cross-party campaigning by MPs and charities, and is a massive victory for school children.

Unfortunately, the deadline for implementation has already been pushed back to summer term 2021, in part because of the pandemic.

“Being harassed has certainly been a regular part of growing up for me. I have repeatedly faced sexual harassment while in my uniform.”

Schools up and down the country will be under immense pressure to make up for lost time caused by Covid-19.

Students who fail to achieve a grade 4 in maths, science and/or English are now required to retake their exams, so teachers will put these targets first. Such a move is understandable of course; we need our core GCSEs.

Yet, a decision to prioritise “academic” subjects over sex education could have enormous unintended consequences.

As a teenage girl, I think nothing is more important than being taught about topics like consent, periods, and violence against women and girls.

Take PSH – public sexual harassment, or “catcalling” as it is often referred to. This is the most common form of violence against women, and a sad part of the majority of schoolgirls’ lives.

Leading children’s charity Plan International UK found in 2016 that 66% of girls in the UK have faced sexual attention in a public place, with 38% being subject to this behaviour monthly. These figures rose amongst BAME and LGBTQ+ girls because of dual discrimination.

Being harassed has certainly been a regular part of growing up for me. I have repeatedly faced sexual harassment while in my uniform. From sexual comments about my body to being followed by cars, my journey to secondary school has never felt safe.

I was 11 the first time I faced harassment. I remember feeling confused and ashamed, wondering whether it was my fault for wearing shorts that day.

Looking back, I wish that I had been taught about consent and victim-blaming before this happened. Luckily, I decided to talk to someone about my experience. It was only after talking to my older sister that I began to understand that what those men had done was not my fault.

The combination of schools neither teaching about this violence nor responding
to it effectively sends out a dangerous message to children that PSH is normal. It leads girls to blame themselves, and is a crucial reason why 42% of girls tell no one about their experience (Plan UK, 2016).

This is why in April last year, my sister and I launched the Our Streets Now
campaign, calling on the UK government to make public sexual harassment
(PSH) a criminal offence.

We’ve also published a series of online resources for students and teachers to tackle this issue.

As I look towards my future beyond secondary school, I know very little of what’s in store. What I do know however is that unless sex education schemes like ours are successfully implemented across the UK, one thing I can (unfortunately) count on in the coming years is that I will continue to be a victim of public sexual harassment.

Gemma Tutton is a 15-year-old student and co-founder of the Our Streets Now campaign.


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