COSRT response summary Sex and Relationship education

COSRT have recently responded to the government consultation on Sex and Relationship education. Thank you for everyone who helped with this, especially Sarah Calvert (UKCP, COSRT), who collated the response. Overall, COSRT feel the guidance is not adequate to meet the needs of children in this day and age and it does not adequately prepare children for the rapidly changing and diverse world that we live in.

Many issues that we believe need to be addressed at primary level such as LGBT, Gender identity, grooming, pornography, consent and the emotional, lasting impacts of unhealthy relationships are only included within secondary education and sometimes even then they do not appear adequate.

Research clearly shows that children of primary age are increasingly impacted by issues such as

pornography. In a study of 8 – 12- year old, children were asked what bothered them the most in respect of the things they had seen online. The answer was pornography. 5% of 9-year olds had viewed pornography in the last year – i.e. when they were 8 years old (EU kids online (2014) London school of Economics and Political Science). Furthermore, a child helpline survey found that one in ten children who were 12 – 13 -year old were ‘worried they might be addicted to porn’. One out of five of those who were 12-17 years of age said they had seen pornographic images that had shocked or upset them, and 12% said they had taken part in, or had made a sexually explicitly video (One Poll Survey for NSPCC UK 2015). Furthermore, the issue of cyber-sex is not raised within the guidance either despite virtual reality is advancing rapidly and is already venturing into the sexual arena.

Additionally, statistics also show that there is a significant increase in the number of children and adolescents who are now questioning ‘conventional gender expectations’ and the number of children that are socially transitioning is increasing whilst statistics show that the ages of those children are decreasing. (Tavistockandportman.nhs.uk). Gender identity starts developing as soon as the child is born, which does not seem to be appreciated by the guidance.

Furthermore, puberty is occurring earlier, and it is not uncommon for girls as young as 8 years old to be starting menstruation, hence it is vital that girls are properly prepared for menstruation within primary education.

Whilst F.G.M. is mentioned in the guidance it is not mandatory teaching. Given that F.G.M usually occurs between infancy and the age of 15 years of age, this subject needs to be tackled before puberty and within primary education.

The guidance states that the only mandatory information primary children will be taught in relation to sex is “external body parts, changes to the human body from birth to old age, including puberty and reproduction in some plants and animals” and this will be taught within the remit of the national curriculum for science. This clearly is very limited and introduces sex to children from a heterosexual, procreation perspective / bias, this does not allow for LGBT or gender diversity. Nor does it allow for the emotional and psychological impact of puberty to be explored.

Another argument for doing more of the teaching on these topics on primary school is that Primary school is a nurturing and contained environment.  Children usually have one teacher and the same class room, which makes it a safer place in which sex and relationships issues can start to be explored.

Notably, the notion that sexual experiences are supposed to be enjoyable and  pleasurable experiences is not mentioned within the guidance and masturbation is not mentioned at all. It is important that children understand that masturbation is normal, natural and a healthy way to explore and connect with their sexual selves before sharing their bodies with another person, when they are old enough and feel ready to do so.

COSRT believe that implementation of the various subjects should be in line with the research on child development and sex and relationships. Too much discretion is given to individual schools about what and how is taught. There is a reliance on parents as children’s main educators of sex and relationship education, despite parents often being uncomfortable discussing these issues and many may not be equipped to deal with some of the issues that children are experiencing today. Furthermore, it seems that a lot is expected of teachers and concern was expressed about the capacity of teachers to deliver this material in terms of time and their own levels of comfort and knowledge on these subjects.   Organisations like COSRT and their members can offer support and training needed to educators and parents.

When reading the guidance, it is evident that there is the stark gap from primary to secondary.  The guidance suggests that secondary education is to “provide clear progression from what is taught in primary schools”. However, as the teaching in primary schools will differ from school to school, with some only following the mandatory guidelines and others going further combined with children transferring to variety of secondary schools, children will enter secondary education with very different levels and areas of knowledge in relation to sex and relationship education.

Looking at the responses to the original consultation, it was noted that 60% of the individual respondents are from Jewish or Muslim faiths, which is not an accurate representation of society and would account, perhaps, for the conservative response given.

Finally, we expressed concern and frustration that COSRT were not invited to respond to the initial consultation and more effort needs to be made for COSRT to be recognised as the leading organisation in the field of sex and relationships.