Government Consultation on Relationship and Sex Education
Relationships and Sex Education – England
On 19 July 2018, the UK Government published its draft statutory guidance and draft regulations on Relationships Education, to be taught in primary schools in England, and on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), to be taught in secondary schools in England. This followed a Government consultation on what should be in the guidance, in which Mothers’ Union engaged. Equivalent guidance has not been updated since the year 2000. On publishing its draft guidance, the Government invited further consultation until 7 November 2018. Mothers’ Union closely reviewed the draft and sought member views to inform our response. This included conducting a survey, which was presented to members during the General Meeting 2018 and made available online.
Mothers’ Union welcomed the Government’s draft guidance. However, there were areas that we believe could, and should, be strengthened. Below provides a summary of some of the key areas which were addressed in our response to the consultation.
Mothers’ Union was glad to see that the overall content of the guidance was built upon teaching the characteristics of positive relationships, based both on self-respect and on respect towards others. This began with a focus on family relationships and friendships at primary school level. The importance of this foundation had been emphasised by Mothers’ Union members when responding to the first consultation; we were therefore pleased that the Government has taken this seriously. In addition, Mothers’ Union welcomed among other content: the inclusion of teaching about online resilience; the law and definitions of rape and sexual assault; and teaching the value of investing in long-term committed relationships.
Mothers’ Union was encouraged that the draft guidance sought to raise awareness of different types of abuse, and explicitly acknowledged that the teaching of Relationships Education and RSE ‘can help prevent abuse’. However, the language in the guidance at times did not align to delivering this in practice. On four occasions, the emphasis was less focused on first preventing abusive behaviours towards others (ie offender focused) but was victim focused in its approach.
Mothers’ Union members believe that young people need to be given tools to protect themselves, and to report abuse—but that this must follow on from providing knowledge and teaching about not being abusive in our actions towards others, in order to help prevent abuse in the first place. The need for this subtle but crucial shift in emphasis with regard to addressing abuse is one that requires a change across culture. What is provided in the Government’s Guidance for schools will set the emphasis for those teaching and, consequently, will influence young people’s mindsets regarding how abuse is viewed. Mothers’ Union therefore made a number of suggested amendments to the language in the draft, to address this.
Engaging with parents
Mothers’ Union welcomed the clarity in draft guidance that all schools should work closely with parents when planning and delivering these subjects. However, although evidence suggests that children are likely to want to talk to their parents about relationships and sex, evidence also shows that many parents and carers do not currently feel confident, or resourced, to communicate with their children about these issues.
Mothers’ Union surveyed 181 parents and carers at Big Church Day Out 2018. In total, 83 percent of those parents felt ‘not at all’ or only ‘partly’ informed about what was already being taught in schools relating to these issues. When asked how confident they felt in talking to their children about issues surrounding healthy relationships and sex education, only around half felt fully confident, and only 30 per cent of the parents felt equipped for such conversations.
Mothers’ Union stressed to the Government that it is crucial that parents are supported in order for them to feel confident and equipped to communicate with their children about healthy relationships and sex. Parenting sessions to help parents talk to their children about these issues have proved successful in increasing the confidence of parents to engage with their children. The ‘What Should We Tell the Children about Relationships and Sex’ programme, which is facilitated by Mothers’ Union in a variety of settings, provided a good example of this.
Access to appropriate resources
The Government asked for those completing its consultation on the draft guidance to list, in order of importance, a number of options it provided about ways in which resourcing and training for teachers could be approached. These approaches included, for example, ‘the provision of, or signposting to, teacher guides or training in the new subject knowledge’ and ‘the provision of guidance or training in how to select appropriate teaching resources’. We contended that the options provided were not mutually exclusive and must not be treated as such.
Looking ahead to implementation of the Guidance, our survey of Mothers’ Union members identified that not only teachers, but all those who had regular communication with children, required increased support with regard to accessing, identifying, and using appropriate resources on relationships and sex education. At the time of the consultation submission, we had received 144 survey responses from Mothers’ Union members. When asked how confident the participants felt in knowing where they can access and identify authoritative age-appropriate resources on these subjects, 87 percent said ‘not at all’ or only ‘partly’– both for online and offline resources. Of the 144 participants, 77 percent said that it would be ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ beneficial if there were a central place to access authoritative resources, either provided by or supported by the Government. In addition, 68 percent felt that it would be ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ beneficial if resources themselves were clearly identifiable as being approved―such as by a relevant Government department.
We strongly agreed with the guidance that, were there to be children whose questions went unanswered on these issues, they may turn to inappropriate sources of information. As young people actively engage in the internet and modern technology as an integral part of daily life, we stressed that this will also be an important contact point for reaching them with authoritative information.
Mothers’ Union emphasised that monitoring and evaluating will be crucial in ensuring a long-term positive outworking of the final guidelines for young people in schools, including on how well parents are being engaged in the process. We also identified that, with the right external provision, there could be a significant additional opportunity for the Government to improve support and education for adults themselves on healthy relationships more broadly.
On 25 February 2019, the Government published the updated guidance, and laid the regulations for debate in Parliament.
Survey on Relationship and Sex Education
Your views matter. Mothers’ Union is continuing to survey its members and friends on a number of issues, to feed into its ongoing evidence base and input into its views on RSE.. Click here to respond to our survey on Relationships and Sex Education in England.
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