So, I wrote a piece about the series ‘Sex Education’ on Netflix. It’s set in England, has British idioms, and British accents (despite there being several Americanisms that don’t really happen in UK schools (Letterman jackets? Really??)).
Anyway, it got me thinking:
What is Sex Education really like in the UK?
What is the law? Is there a difference depending on where you live? What are the rules for faith schools? I decided to find out.
In the UK at the moment, the law states that schools have to teach sex education that appears in the national science curriculum. This includes foetal development, the physical and mental changes that happen during puberty, and information about the reproductive system.
Information about contraception and safe sex is discretionary.
Yeah, you did read that right. It is not currently required by law for schools to teach about contraception and safe sex. Coincidentally, Britain has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe, but I’m sure that’s just coincidental, right? Schools do, however, have to teach about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases as part of the science curriculum. Quite how a school would do this without discussing contraception baffles me a little.
Notably, in Scotland, they developed two different programmes, one called Healthy Respect and another, Called To Love, for faith schools, after they refused to teach the contraception and sexual health aspects of Healthy Respect. Instead, Called To Love focuses on encouraging students to delay sex until marriage, does not cover contraception, and falls into the abstinence only sex education programme.
Outside of the UK, when looking for a better model, it is perhaps good to look at Sweden, for example, where the focus is on “sexual diversity, freedom, and enjoyment” and the Swedish Association for Sexual Education frequently collaborates with the National Institute of Public Health to update it’s education material. Sweden has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe. That seems like a fairly healthy and enlightened way forward, yes?
Outside of the Science Curriculum, there is what is known as SRE (Sex and Relationships Education).
Sex and Relationships Education is meant to do what it says on the tin; from a primary school age, through secondary, and on through life, this form of education is supposed to cover age-appropriate information about sex, sexuality, and relationships. And, thankfully, not just heterosexual relationships – information is supposed to be shared about gender, sexual orientation, cultural sensitivities, and disability in relation to sex and relationships. As it should. Unfortunately, however:
Parents have the right to withdraw their children from SRE [Sex & Relationships Education] taught outside the Science Curriculum.NHS England, ‘Sex Education in the UK’
SRE is not compulsory for children in school to learn about, and in my opinion, that leaves them woefully under prepared for life outside the classroom. It is compulsory for a teenager to learn how to calculate the radius of a circle as part of their GCSE, yet it is not compulsory that they learn about consent. They will definitely need one of these things after they have left school, and I’ll give you a clue; it’s not the circles.
Consent is a whole ‘nother topic, one which I’m sure this blog will cover, as it is (sadly) a topic that comes up time, and time again. However, and despite it being made in America, I will leave you with this; John Oliver discussing Sex Education. I recommend you watch the entire thing (it’s interesting and enlightening), but if you only have three minutes, skip along to 17:55, and watch from there!
It should be noted, that a review of Sex Education in the UK was undertaken by the Department of Education in 2017/18, with the implementation of recommendations due to start in 2019. It will be interesting to see what changes take place, and if there is a move towards a more diverse and lifestyle focused education programme.
What do you think? Should education about all types of relationships, sexuality, gender, issues of consent, LGBTQ+, sexual health, and all the other topics that fall under this very broad category, be taught as a matter of law in schools? Should parents be allowed to withdraw their children from Sex Education classes? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.