SRE – It’s my right: frequently asked questions
1. What is sex and relationships education?
Sex and relationships education (SRE) is learning about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up, relationships, sex, human sexuality and sexual health. It should equip children and young people with the information, skills and values to have safe, fulfilling and enjoyable relationships and to take responsibility for their sexual health and well-being.
2. Isn’t SRE compulsory already?
No. The legislation is confusing, but it allows primary schools and academies to choose not to teach a programme of sex and relationship education (SRE).
There is some basic sex education such as puberty and reproduction in primary science and the menstrual cycle and reproductive system in secondary science. This is part of the National Curriculum and academies and free schools don’t have to follow it.
State secondary schools (other than academies and free schools) have to provide sex education but the only topic they must cover is HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.
The Sex Education Forum believes that SRE is every child’s right – a view that is backed by the UNCRC and UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women* and put forward by the Education Select Committee in their recent report ‘Life Lessons’, which recommended that SRE be made statutory in all state-funded primary and secondary schools. The independent reports into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester, Birmingham and Rotherham recommended that all schools provide SRE by trained educators.
Legislation needs to require all state-funded schools to provide sex and relationships education – this would include academies, free schools and primary schools.
3. But haven’t the government recently updated their SRE guidance?
Legally, all state funded schools must pay due to regard to the Secretary of State’s SRE guidance. The latest guidance was issued in 2000.
Responding to calls for updated guidance the Sex Education Forum, Brook and the PSHE Association worked in partnership to produce supplementary advice: SRE for the 21st Century. This was neither initiated nor funded by government but Ministers have encouraged schools to use it. The SRE Advice provides an up-dated resource for schools but the government does not intend to update its own (2000) guidance. This leaves schools dependent on guidance that is 15 years old.
4. What is taught to five year olds?
SRE begins with teaching children about appropriate behaviour, safety and basic understanding of their bodies and how families care for them. Five year olds are not taught about how people have sex.
In a poll of 1000 parents of school-aged children, 78% said they wanted primary schools to teach children about the difference between safe and unwanted touch and how to speak up if someone treats them inappropriately, whilst 72% of parents felt that primary schools should educate children on what to do if they find online pictures showing private body parts or are asked to send them.
5. How often should SRE be taught?
There needs to be an element of SRE included in the PSHE programme for every academic year in primary and secondary school.
We recommend that PSHE has a regular place in the timetable and should not taught purely through special ‘drop-down’ / off-timetable days. Schools have been warned against the solely ‘drop-down day’ approach by Ofsted. This approach still leaves flexibility for schools in designing their curriculum.
6. What sort of training is needed? Should this be initial teacher training?
All teachers need basic training in SRE and PSHE as part of initial teacher training. There should also be the option to train as a SRE/PSHE specialist teacher.
In primary and special schools all teachers need to be able to teach SRE and PSHE. In secondary school SRE needs to be taught by a subject specialist – as other subjects are – and so there needs to be an option to train as a SRE / PSHE specialist teacher. If SRE and PSHE are treated the same as other subjects the need for properly trained educators would be recognised too.
7. Shouldn’t it be left to parents to educate their children about sex and relationships?
Children say they want their parents to be their primary educators about sex but in reality many parents fail to play this part.
A national survey (Natsal-3) showed that fathers are the main source of information about sex for only 3% of boys. Many parents want to take more of a role in educating their children but say they need support to do so. When schools are providing good quality SRE they involve parents and this helps parents understand how they can play a part at home too.
8. What does the evidence say?
National and international research shows that good quality SRE has a protective function as young people who have had good SRE are more likely to choose to have sex for the first time later and are more likely to use condoms and contraception when they first have sex. In a large US study, young people who had received comprehensive SRE were less likely to describe first sex as unwanted. See ‘SRE – the evidence’ for a summary of the research evidence.
The Education Select Committee has recognised that age-appropriate information will protect children. Failure to guarantee SRE in all schools leaves many children unable to speak out about unwanted touch, ill-equipped to recognise abusive behaviour and at risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Find out more about our SRE - It's my right campaign.
*The lack of education about reproduction and preparation for adult life has been identified by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as a children’s rights issue that needs urgent attention in the UK (UNCRC 2008).
The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women at the end of her visit to the UK, asserted that “in order to play a truly transformative role in the longer term, this [This is Abuse] campaign, as well as similar initiatives, need to be part of the curriculum and be institutionalized in the education system” (UN 2014, p2).
The UK country report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women recommends that the UK government "Ensure a holistic approach to prevention of violence against women and girls by including appropriate and comprehensive sex and relationship education in schools as a compulsory subject; providing adequate training to teachers and other school staff; and developing gender-specific prevention policies" (UN 2015).