Family charity speaks out
Statutory sex and relationships education not the answer to sexual harassment and sexual violence, says family charity
Media release: 12 September 2016
In response to the Women and Equalities Committee’s Inquiry report into Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, embargoed until 00.01 on Tuesday 13 September 2016.
The deep-seated cultural and social factors that lie behind sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools will not be solved by putting sex and relationships education (SRE) on the national curriculum, according to national family charity, Family Education Trust.
Responding to the recent report from the Women and Equalities Committee, Family Education Trust director, Norman Wells, commented:
‘The rise in the incidence of sexual harassment and sexual violence must be seen in the context of a highly sexualised culture in which we have made an idol of sexual pleasure. As a society, we have tended to view sex as a casual recreational activity rather than as an expression of total, lifelong commitment. And all too often, sex and relationships education in schools is contributing to the problem. Young people are being given the impression that sexual urges and impulses cannot be controlled and must be expressed.
‘It is important to maintain a sense of proportion. Sexual harassment and sexual violence do not feature in all schools, and where they are present they do not occur in every school to the same degree. This is therefore primarily an issue to be addressed by school communities at the local level rather than by central government.’
The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report stresses that ‘parents have a central role’, and yet its key recommendation for statutory sex and relationships education would undermine that role. Norman Wells observed:
‘If SRE were to be made part of the national curriculum, it is inevitable that there would be more central prescription and that parents would have less say as to what is taught. In such a sensitive and controversial subject area, that would be unacceptable and would go against the fundamental principle of education law that pupils should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.
‘Parents are best placed to supervise and monitor the exposure of their children to the media, their access to the internet, their engagement in social networking and their use of mobile phones. Schools should be actively engaging with parents over problems relating to sexual harassment and violence. The last thing we need is a centrally-prescribed approach to SRE that rides roughshod over parental concerns.’
More harm than good?
Some of the leading campaigners for statutory SRE favour an approach to the subject which is likely to do more harm than good in relation to sexual harassment and sexual violence.
For example, in 2014 the Sex Education Forum, the PSHE Association and Brook published ‘supplementary advice’ for schools on SRE. The advice states that SRE should treat sex as ‘a normal and pleasurable fact of life’, but fails to set it in the context of an exclusive, committed and faithful relationship. However, placing the emphasis on sexual pleasure and self-gratification rather than on self-giving in a lifelong relationship will not discourage and reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and sexual violence.
There is also evidence that presenting sex as a normal part of growing up is placing children and young people at risk. Serious case reviews in Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxfordshire revealed instances where authorities failed to act in order to protect young teenage girls from child sexual exploitation because they regarded underage sex a normal ‘lifestyle choice’.
Norman Wells added:
‘Far from being the solution to sexual harassment and sexual violence, some kinds of SRE can exacerbate the problem. Many parents are deeply troubled about the growing number of sex education resources aimed at both primary and secondary school pupils which are seeking to push back the boundaries and expose children to explicit material which fails to teach them about the importance of marriage and stable family life.
‘Schools need to take great care over the messages they communicate to children and young people regarding sexual relationships. It is vital that schools remain accountable to parents and shape their sex education policies, and select materials and resources, in close consultation with parents, being sensitive to their wishes and concerns.’
Notes for editors
- The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report on Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools follows an inquiry launched in April 2016.
- The Family Education Trust submission to the Committee’s inquiry may be viewed at http://data.parliament.uk/WrittenEvidence/CommitteeEvidence.svc/EvidenceDocument/Women%20and%20Equalities/Sexual%20harassment%20and%20sexual%20violence%20in%20schools/written/33511.html
- The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report claims that the vast majority of parents support statutory Personal, Social Health and Economic education (PSHE) and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). There is, however, no clear evidence to support this claim.
An oft-cited YouGov poll of 1,000 parents conducted on behalf of the PSHE Association did not explicitly refer to making the subject statutory. The question was carefully framed in terms of teaching PSHE in all schools, with ‘lessons tailored to the age and maturity of pupils’ and parents ‘consulted in advance of lessons being taught’. What the question did not mention is that putting PSHE/SRE on a statutory basis would involve the imposition of a standardised approach upon every school in terms of the values espoused. This would inevitably have the effect on the requirement on schools to consult parents which lies at the heart of the current legal framework.
Family Education Trust is an educational charity committed to promoting stable family life and the welfare of children and young people.