‘I think schools could help a lot in teaching what a healthy relationship is.’
Arabella is a 17 year old student with a passion for fine arts. Like other young women her age, she has experienced forms of aggressive male sexual behaviour. Arabella believes that gender stereotypes and a low awareness of what sexual violence is could be challenged through compulsory Sex and Relationships Education in schools. She also thinks people should have a better understanding of intersectional discrimination against Black women, as they experience racism and sexism simultaneously.
‘I have always grown up in a white neighbourhood. You’re black AND a woman, so you face racism and sexism. One of my friends did get raped at a party. She was sleeping in bed. She was wearing shorts and apparently that invited rape. She didn’t tell anyone. She didn’t even tell her mum. I think school can help a lot in teaching men and women what rape is. Not just “she said no”. Schools need to have classes on what a healthy relationship is. Sex is not just physical.’
What is the government’s current policy on Sex and Relationship Education (SRE)?
For many years the government have been reluctant to make Sex and Relationship Education a compulsory part of the curriculum in British schools. Prior to March 2017, only students at local-authority run schools were guaranteed to receive some form of SRE, and Personal, Social, Health, and Economic (PSHE) education was only mandatory at independent schools. Academies and other schools were not required to teach either. This means that many children and teenagers were left with insufficient or no access to education about health, sexuality, consent, and relationships. After tireless campaigning, the UK government has finally amended the Children and Social Work Bill in 2017 to make SRE compulsory for almost all students from the age of 4. However, activists and campaigners worry that though this is a welcome step forward, it is not enough. SRE is still not completely compulsory across the entire UK, and it is not standardised or comprehensive; individual schools and teachers have flexibility over what and how SRE is delivered yet teachers receive no specialist training, religious schools can continue to teach SRE according to the beliefs of their faith, and parents can choose for their children to ‘opt-out’ of SRE. As a result, many students will continue to receive insufficient and inaccurate information about healthy sex and relationships.
What are the issues with this approach?
The lack of standardised, comprehensive, and compulsory SRE in all UK schools has serious implications. The need for SRE and consent to be taught in schools has been emphasised by various women’s and education organisations. Many feel that high teen pregnancy rates, STD rates, and rape cases in the UK are a consequence of having inadequate SRE in schools. Other countries, primarily in Western Europe, that have comprehensive SRE in schools and offer a more open approach to conversations about sex and relationships have seen a decrease in instances of sexual harassment, rape, STIs, and unplanned pregnancies. Campaigners argue that the UK should mirror the approach to SRE taken in the Netherlands, where the focus is on instilling a sense of knowledge and responsibility in young people in regards to their sexual activity. This will empower young people to make better and healthier decisions. The government must take SRE in schools more seriously and implement stronger measures with a specific curriculum which takes into account varied and intersectional experiences and provides specialist training for teachers and school staff. In the absence of comprehensive SRE, women, especially minority women, are likely to suffer most from continued rates of rape, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.
Did you know?
7 out 10 girls over 13 report being harassed by boys at school.