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Published on October 25th, 2011 | by Lorna Gledhill
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"]Nadine Dorries at hustings (c) julietteculver[/caption] As the Department of Education continues its internal review of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom has called for the materials used in sex and relationship education (SRE) to be subject to the ratings of the British Broad of Film Classification. Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate, she stated that some of the material being taught to primary school children was “extraordinarily inappropriate” and that many adults were “horrified” when they found out the content of SRE. The MP for South Northamptonshire continued:

“I’ve seen cartoons of two people engaged in sexual activities with the caption ‘here are some ways mummies and daddies fit together’, [others] accompanied by a vivid explanation, using sexual terminology of the act of intercourse.”
However, when asked by Labour’s shadow minister for Schools, Kevin Brennan, to reveal the names of the schools where she found these materials, Leadson said that this was not necessary for the purposes of the debate. Andrea Leadsom’s approach to SRE is not only fundamentally regressive, but also ignores the results of decades of research into the importance of a comprehensive and unified provision of SRE. A report conducted by Brook revealed that currently, 47% of school children believe that SRE doesn’t cover what they really need to know about sex, and a shocking 1 in 4 have stated that they receive no SRE whatsoever. Even Ofsted declared last year that ¼ of the schools in England are not providing satisfactory PSHE. A bill that was set to introduce the statutory provision of SRE was lost in the pre-election legislative wash-up, with the concessions wrangled between Labour and the Conservatives creating a patchwork rendition of a once powerful proposal. The then Shadow Secretary of State for Education and now Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, was quick to champion the deflection of the bill. The current cabinet seems overwhelmingly antiquated in its approach to SRE. With Leadsom calling for an opt in rather than opt out system for SRE and the controversial MP Nadine Dorries proposing a bill that would result in abstinence classes for girls aged 13 to 16, the supposed changes to SRE seem to focus less on education and more on limitation. Dorries’ statement that "the answer to ending our constant struggle with the incredibly high rate of teenage sexual activity and underage pregnancies lies in teaching our girls and boys about the option of abstinence” is both unqualified and contradictory. Not only does her proposal only deal with the provision of ‘abstinence’ education for girls, but it also ignores statistics from the Office for National Statistics that reveal that teenage pregnancies are at their lowest rate since the early 1980s. This is not a result to be claimed by the coalition; this is a demonstration of the success of the past Labour government. SRE in the twentieth century should be about empowerment, access to information, and the consultation of young people themselves. 82% of young people questioned by Brook stated that they want schools to take their views into account in order to make SRE not only more relevant but equally more effective. Even according to a survey on the Netmums site, the majority of parents believe that children should begin learning about sex from eight years old. Sex and relationship education should not be challenged by Dorries’ declaration that society is “saturated in sex.” Surely this should reveal the crucial need for better and a more modern approach to educating young people about sexual health, sexuality and relationships. Perhaps Nadine Dorries and Andrea Leadsom should listen to their fellow coalition partner Lib Dem Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families. Talking to Brook, she reiterated that evidence “shows that comprehensive sex and relationships education, combined with easy access to effective contraception are the two essential ingredients for reducing teenage pregnancy.” Sex and relationship education is not just about sex. It is about learning about our biological makeup, our fabrication as men and women, and our personal relationships. By using terms such as “sexual terminology”, Leadsom sees SRE through the antiquated belief that sex is a both a threat and a social taboo. Unfortunately, the greatest threat to the sexual health of our young people is the blinkered vision of a frightened conservative traditionalism. To ‘just say no’ is not a solution; it privileges ignorance over education and uninformed decisions over choice.

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To ‘just say no’ is not a solution: Conservative traditionalism threatens Sex and Relationship Education

Nadine Dorries at hustings

(c) julietteculver

As the Department of Education continues its internal review of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom has called for the materials used in sex and relationship education (SRE) to be subject to the ratings of the British Broad of Film Classification.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate, she stated that some of the material being taught to primary school children was “extraordinarily inappropriate” and that many adults were “horrified” when they found out the content of SRE. The MP for South Northamptonshire continued:

“I’ve seen cartoons of two people engaged in sexual activities with the caption ‘here are some ways mummies and daddies fit together’, [others] accompanied by a vivid explanation, using sexual terminology of the act of intercourse.”

However, when asked by Labour’s shadow minister for Schools, Kevin Brennan, to reveal the names of the schools where she found these materials, Leadson said that this was not necessary for the purposes of the debate.

Andrea Leadsom’s approach to SRE is not only fundamentally regressive, but also ignores the results of decades of research into the importance of a comprehensive and unified provision of SRE. A report conducted by Brook revealed that currently, 47% of school children believe that SRE doesn’t cover what they really need to know about sex, and a shocking 1 in 4 have stated that they receive no SRE whatsoever. Even Ofsted declared last year that ¼ of the schools in England are not providing satisfactory PSHE.

A bill that was set to introduce the statutory provision of SRE was lost in the pre-election legislative wash-up, with the concessions wrangled between Labour and the Conservatives creating a patchwork rendition of a once powerful proposal. The then Shadow Secretary of State for Education and now Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, was quick to champion the deflection of the bill.

The current cabinet seems overwhelmingly antiquated in its approach to SRE. With Leadsom calling for an opt in rather than opt out system for SRE and the controversial MP Nadine Dorries proposing a bill that would result in abstinence classes for girls aged 13 to 16, the supposed changes to SRE seem to focus less on education and more on limitation.

Dorries’ statement that “the answer to ending our constant struggle with the incredibly high rate of teenage sexual activity and underage pregnancies lies in teaching our girls and boys about the option of abstinence” is both unqualified and contradictory. Not only does her proposal only deal with the provision of ‘abstinence’ education for girls, but it also ignores statistics from the Office for National Statistics that reveal that teenage pregnancies are at their lowest rate since the early 1980s.

This is not a result to be claimed by the coalition; this is a demonstration of the success of the past Labour government. SRE in the twentieth century should be about empowerment, access to information, and the consultation of young people themselves. 82% of young people questioned by Brook stated that they want schools to take their views into account in order to make SRE not only more relevant but equally more effective. Even according to a survey on the Netmums site, the majority of parents believe that children should begin learning about sex from eight years old.

Sex and relationship education should not be challenged by Dorries’ declaration that society is “saturated in sex.” Surely this should reveal the crucial need for better and a more modern approach to educating young people about sexual health, sexuality and relationships. Perhaps Nadine Dorries and Andrea Leadsom should listen to their fellow coalition partner Lib Dem Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families. Talking to Brook, she reiterated that evidence “shows that comprehensive sex and relationships education, combined with easy access to effective contraception are the two essential ingredients for reducing teenage pregnancy.”

Sex and relationship education is not just about sex. It is about learning about our biological makeup, our fabrication as men and women, and our personal relationships. By using terms such as “sexual terminology”, Leadsom sees SRE through the antiquated belief that sex is a both a threat and a social taboo. Unfortunately, the greatest threat to the sexual health of our young people is the blinkered vision of a frightened conservative traditionalism. To ‘just say no’ is not a solution; it privileges ignorance over education and uninformed decisions over choice.

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