Thurrock SRE Review & the Role of Faith

The issue of high teenage pregnancy rates in Thurrock was raised at The Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee in 2008. It was decided to establish a SRE Review Panel to investigate whether SRE was effectively taught in Thurrock schools.

From the start it was recognized that sex and relationships are intrinsically linked to personal beliefs and religion. The Committee was aware that some children and young people did not attend SRE in school because of faith reasons and wanted to understand this further. The Committee felt that the Panel should include a member of the public who represented a faith group. A lay member of the Committee who represented the Roman Catholic Church volunteered to be a faith representative on the Review Panel.

During the course of the Review consultation was carried out with young people including young parents, parents, schools and health professionals. Two of the schools involved in the consultation were Roman Catholic girls' schools.

In order to consult more widely with faith groups the Panel identified the main religious organizations in the area and wrote to at least one leading representative of each. This included representatives from the following faiths: Church of England; Presbyterian; Roman Catholic; Methodist; United Reformed Church; Congregational; Baptist; Evangelical; New Covenant; Seventh Day Adventist; Islam; Sikhism; Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints; Spiritualist; Judaism; Jehovah's Witness.

In addition to contacting representatives individually a questionnaire was made available on-line. This allowed people of faith to respond individually to the Review. Ten questionnaire responses were received from faith communities. In addition faith was touched on within responses from teachers, school nurses and young people. The Council's 'Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education' (SACRE) which has representation from all the major faiths in Thurrock also proved to be a useful resource.

The investigations carried out for the Review showed that religion did have a part to play in young people's lives; that it discourages teenage pregnancy and promotes loving relationships as a context for sex.

The 10 faith representatives responding to the consultation questionnaire agreed that young people should receive SRE. One respondent described SRE as important in terms of protecting children and young people from harm and in particular from abuse: "if children don't know what sex is, what inappropriate behaviour is or don't know how to express themselves, speaking out about abuse is very difficult."

Respondents advocated for a wide range of topics to be included in SRE that were not currently included such as basic childcare, the family, pornography and abuse. More than half of respondents thought that religious beliefs should be covered in SRE. Nine out of ten respondents listed religious leaders as one of the types of people who should provide SRE.

Although a relatively small number of faith representatives responded to the consultation the diversity of views was evident. All agreed that young people should receive SRE but there were also differences in opinion, for example about the age at which it should start.

The Review Panel concluded that faith groups valued relationships education the most and noted that this was prioritized by a number of young people too. The Panel also learnt that many faith groups felt excluded from SRE in schools and would welcome more engagement. The important role of parents in SRE was also emphasized by faith groups.

One of the recommendations from the Reviews is to create a network of SRE practitioners across Thurrock. The network would 'pool resources' and foster links with faith leaders and others.

Key features and learning

  • The Review Panel started from the position that faith can have a positive role to play in reducing teenage pregnancies and supporting young people
  • It was recognized that faith may play a part in the views of everyone involved in the consultation including young people and teachers
  • If there had been more time the Review Panel would have liked to follow up with faith groups who didn't respond to the consultation and to do more face-to-face consultation
  • Opportunities have been identified for ongoing dialogue with faith groups about SRE

The report from the Review Panel was published in January 2010 and can be accessed from the Thurrock Council web-site.