The draft Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) guidance was published yesterday (19 July 2018) by the Department for Education and is calling for public consultation up until 7th November 2018. Whilst the guidance makes Relationship Education statutory in all Primary Schools, it does not go far enough to keep children safe in the modern world says Lynnette Smith Chair of the Sex Education Forum and founder of BigTalk Education, a leading national RSE provider.
Whilst the guidance includes that children in primary schools, must be taught “the knowledge they need to be safe and to report abuse, including …sexual abuse.” It gives parents the right to “withdraw their primary children from some or all of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE.” For many this will beg the question; how can you enable a child to speak out about sexual abuse, if parents are able to exclude their children from the education that helps them identify this.
It is known that one in 20 children in the UK has been sexually abused* and of this number, nearly one in three cases is perpetrated by a parent or family member.± Should parents have the right to keep their child uneducated? Evidence shows an uneducated child, is a vulnerable child. Those who have had good quality age appropriate RSE, are three times more likely to speak out if something happens to them.+
The minority of parents and other bodies, that have pushed for the ‘sex’ element to be removed from the statutory guidance, are those who do not realise the culture that children are growing up in today, is so vastly different to that of their own childhood. No doubt the release of the guidance will initiate media coverage today and in the coming weeks from a vocal minority saying; “let them be children” and “don’t take away their innocence”. These same lobbyists, parents and grandparents will on the most part, let their children listen to the radio and watch TV, where they can hear pop songs aimed at tweens talking about sex and other provocative topics, such as Little Mix’s Shout Out to My Ex. The guidance acknowledges the concern around “inappropriate sources of information” that children and young people will turn to if their questions about these themes go unanswered. (If you are in doubt we suggest you search “SEX” on Google images.) So why does it not set out that children must be taught about sex and reproduction in a gentle age appropriate manner, at a time when we know children start thinking and talking about what this language means?
Lynnette Smith, founder of leading RSE Provider BigTalk Education and chair of the National Children’s Bureau’s Sex Education Forum says “This guidance just gives too many concessions to parents over the rights of the children. In the previous guidance published in 2000 it ensured that children were aware of human reproduction and sex before they transitioned to Secondary school, this in my view is a backwards step. Yet again the DfE is putting more pressure on teachers, particularly Heads, to justify the curriculum to parents. This new guidance was supposed to protect more children through ensuring the access to high quality relationship and sex education was not a postcode lottery. The guidance is now weaker than previous and almost contradictory in places, saying it is statutory that primary children are protected from sexual abuse as part of Relationship Education but this no longer includes teaching them about reproduction. Children are naturally inquisitive and if we don’t teach them in a gentle age appropriate way, they will go looking for information online. Which should be the last thing government and any parents wants their child to do.”
Lynnette Smith has a background in Youth & Community Work; she is also a qualified Teacher, Trainer and Specialist Relationship & Sex Education Trainer having worked in the field of RSE since the early ’90s. She has worked for several Authorities in the Yorkshire and Humber Region before setting up BigTalk Education in 2005. Lynnette features regularly as a special guest on radio and television talking on subjects ranging from safeguarding, children & the internet, early sexualisation and pornography.
BigTalk Education is a North Lincolnshire based social enterprise who work to ensure as many children and young people as possible receive high quality relationship and sex education, to help keep them safe, healthy & happy. They work in schools across the UK with pupils from aged 3 to 18 and their parents, they currently deliver in around 160 schools annually. They also work nationally and internationally with professionals and academics leading the way in the field of relationship and sex education. Lynnette and the team are often invited to Westminster to contribute to policy debate. BigTalk Education are a partner of the Sex Education Forum which is the National Lead body for relationship and sex education, of which Lynnette is the standing Chair.
The guidance and associated documents can be viewed here.
±2016 Data from the Office of National Statistics accessed 20 July 2018 2018 Data from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/datasets/abuseduringchildhoodappendixtables
+ 2015 Data from Cochrane research network accessed 20 July 2018 from http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/dp1341.pdf
*2011 Radford, L. et al Child abuse and neglect in the UK today.