Scrutiny Review of SRE in Birmingham

Why the review was carried out
Birmingham Council has completed a scrutiny review of sex and relationships education (SRE). The issue of SRE being of variable quality across the city was raised by the youth representatives on the Children and Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee. A review group was then set up including Elected Members and young people.

The main objective was to explore the effectiveness of sex and relationships education in schools and non-school based settings and to identify how good practice can be built on and shared. The review group was co-chaired by Councillor Jon Hunt and youth representative Tyrone Fowles. Tyrone recalls that:

"In the first year of joining the United Kingdom Youth Parliament (UKYP) at the top of my list was the issue of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) and when I had the chance to put it forward as a issue to a board of people who I knew had the power to change the way it was taught I jumped to it. I showed them a report completed by the UK Youth Parliament, which explained that young people simply were not getting a good standard of SRE."

Who was involved in the review
The review group was made up of four Councillors, three youth representatives, a parent governor representative, a Church of England representative, and a Union representative. The review gathered evidence from local sources including the Health Education Service, youth service, governor support unit, Looked After Children Education Service, teachers, school nurses, Brook, faith school representatives and the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE).

Evidence was also gathered from national sources including the government SRE Review (2008), the Sex Education Forum teachers' SRE survey (2008) and scrutiny reviews about SRE from 10 other local authorities.

Fresh evidence was also gathered locally through carrying out a survey with young people and a survey with governors.

The outcomes from the review
The evidence was reviewed and findings identified on a range of themes including monitoring and evaluation, teaching materials, training, external agencies and parental involvement. The findings then prompted a number of recommendations; a sample is listed below:

  • That the Cabinet Member explores the possibility of creating a framework for SRE delivery that offers a minimum entitlement of content. This should allow flexibility to take account of localised issues.
  • That the Cabinet Member works with SACRE to establish a multi faith sub group, (broadened to include representatives of additional interests such as Faith schools in Birmingham) to be consulted on the SRE framework and to ensure the curriculum and delivery takes account of the needs of diverse communities within the city.
  • That the Cabinet Member encourages all schools to have a qualified PSHEe certificated member of staff and also reviews the take-up and financial cost of training by other professionals including Youth Workers, School Nurses and Children's Social Workers on an annual basis.
  • That the Cabinet Member provides an annual update to the Children and Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee setting out the take up of training by governors, teachers and other professionals.
  • That the Cabinet Member works with the Birmingham UK Youth Parliament and the Birmingham Children and Young Peoples' Parliament to implement the work of this review and report back to Scrutiny.

The review group also drew up a set of characteristics that they thought were essential for effective SRE as follows:

1. That there is a balance between the relationships aspect and the biological aspect of the subject;
2. It focuses on supporting resilience and learning for life;
3. It aims to raise self-esteem and confidence;
4. That it provides young people with the knowledge to resist social and peer pressure;
5. That the delivery methods used in schools are appropriate to the group being taught (in terms of age, culture and ethnicity);
6. Parents and young people are involved in its development and evaluation;
7. The delivery of the subject is led by people who believe in the programme, are confident and have received appropriate training to teach the topic areas;
8. Those schools that take advantage of nationally accredited training;
9. That good quality and up to date teaching resources are available;
10. A multi agency and multi faceted approach works best. It may be that a standard approach does not fit all and that a variety of methods may be required;
11. Where SRE is linked to specialist services, it can help delay sexual activity and reduce pregnancy rates;
12. It is supplemented by pastoral and counselling support;
13. It offers positive role models; and
14. That the leadership role of governors in terms of SRE policy development is strengthened and supported.

Dates have been set for actions linked to the recommendations to be completed. The review has provided a platform to gather views and energy to improve SRE in the city. It has also put SRE clearly on the Council agenda. This engagement is evidenced in the preface of the review report; Councillor Jon Hunt writes:

"To sum up the findings, the barriers to good education on relationships and sexual health do not only lie in institutions. They lie in reticence, embarrassment, confusion and misconceptions. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, atheist, agnostic Sikh or of another belief, it is possible to deliver and receive good education and support in these areas during your youth."

The review report and youth-friendly version can be accessed from the City Council 'O&S Reports Library' on-line.