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Relationships and Sex Education: The Way Forward

A report from The Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group

On Tuesday, 11th September, the Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group, chaired by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, and jointly Convened by Revd Lynda Rose, CEO of VfJUK, and Robert Harris, launched its Report on Relationships and Sex Education: The Way Forward. The Report is in response to the public consultation on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), due to close on November 7.

Whatever the public response, the Government has insisted the proposals will be implemented between September 2019 and 2020, making Relationships Education mandatory in all Primary schools, including free and maintained schools, and Academies, and Sex and Relationships Education mandatory for all Secondary schools. However, Relationships and Sex Education: The Way Forward argues that the underlying rationale is fundamentally flawed, and will not help what everyone agrees is a major crisis in child welfare.

The Problem

Despite our best efforts the UK still has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe – and that’s even with the reported recent 9.6% drop in conceptions for girls aged 15 to 17, hailed as such a success by family planning groups. At the same time we have sky-rocketing rates of teenage STIs, classified by doctors as at epidemic level, while children as young as five are reportedly accessing pornography, and sexting and online bullying is at a record high. And despite justifiable concern over the rise in paedophile and sex grooming, figures for child sexual abuse show that one third of attacks are actually committed by other children.

The traditionally favoured remedy has been to increase sex and relationships teaching – the line the Government is now taking. As said, under the new proposals, relationships education will be mandatory for all primary schools, and relationships and sex education will be mandatory for children aged 11-18. Up until now parents have had the right to withdraw children from sex education classes, but Damian Hinds has now announced that this right is incompatible with English case law and the European Convention on Human Rights, so he is proposing to limit this to the right to request withdrawal from sex education lessons, which the Head may or may not allow. At the same time, under the new provisions, children will be held competent to make their own decisions, which can therefore again override the parental right of withdrawal.

At first glance, the rationale may seem sensible. As everyone acknowledges, the world is a very dangerous place and all of us want to keep children safe. But the problem is that SRE programmes up to now have been a disaster, not just in failing to protect children, but by actually contributing to – even causing – the very problems they’re supposed to stop. In fact, RSE appears to be prematurely sexualising children by giving them too much information, too young.

The report, Relationships and Sex Education: The Way Forward, analyses why and how RSE policy has gone wrong, arguing that current proposals are not just flawed, but highly dangerous. It suggests indeed that much of current policy is not concerned with child welfare, but is rather ideological promotion of adult behaviours. The Report suggests an alternative approach that will realistically confront the problems, while prioritising child welfare and safety.

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