Government consultation on sex education – Outspoken responses



A crucial turning point for sex education in the UK was 7 November 2018, the deadline for the Department for Education's consultation about its proposed new guidance for relationships and sex education (RSE).

The last time sex education was updated was the year 2000 – before the advent of smartphones and online porn. This consultation allowed everyone – adults, young people, parents, teachers – to have their say on what is important to include in sex ed, and to emphasise the need for questioning and changing our culture by tackling such issues as:

  • gender equality

  • the impact of pornography

  • consent

  • sexual harassment

  • LGBT inclusivity, sexual orientation, family diversity

Below are the consultation questions followed by responses from Outspoken Sex Ed as well from Teaching Lifeskills, which is run by Outspoken co-founder Yoan Reed…

Do you agree that the content of Relationships Education in paragraphs 50-57 is age-appropriate for primary school pupils?

OUTSPOKEN SEX ED: Disagree. The term “age appropriate” is often a question of “stage not age”, given that some subjects need to be brought up preemptively, before onset, or on a sliding scale of preparedness or timeliness.

There should be reference to the importance of gender equality.

After “families of many forms” add: “including those headed by adults who are LGBT, single, mixed race, foster/carer etc”.

These points should be made:

• “Establishing personal space and boundaries, showing respect and understanding the difference between safe and unwanted touching are the forerunners of learning about consent.”

• “The fact that children will find or be shown pornography should be addressed, including advice about developing safeguarding practices and resilience and talking to a trusted adult about disturbing images so that children can process and contextualise their reactions.”

• “Learning correct names for body parts from the start of primary school is a form of early intervention, a safeguarding measure that arms children with self-knowledge and the ability to articulate what happens with their body. This awareness and expressiveness serves as a deterrent to possible perpetrators and signals a child’s potential for confiding in a trusted adult.”

Delete “virtues” – the use of this word in inverted commas introduces moralistic judgement and religious implication. Appearing eight times in the guidance, this loaded word is not appropriate, and in the Foreword it is associated with “self-sacrifice” – a behaviour or attitude which can make children vulnerable to abuse. Instead use the terms “values”, eg equality and respect, and “skills”.

TEACHING LIFESKILLS: Agree.

Yes. It does, however, omit some very important content areas and lacks effective guidance on the timeliness of content.

Content: Although the content set out in the draft guidance is age-appropriate it does not fully include all the important educational aspects of relationships and health. The most important omissions from the draft are the topics of learning about the body that includes the correct names for genitalia (vulva, vagina, penis, testicles), and human reproduction (womb, ovaries, eggs, sperm, ejaculation) as part of the human life cycle. Without this learning, children are not able to learn about their bodies’ natural development or use correct language to voice concerns about those areas of their bodies. This poses a serious impact on their safeguarding and self-knowledge. In addition, the draft content mentions the need for children “to respond safely to adults they may encounter who they do not know” which in terms of safeguarding misses the point of children keeping safe from adults who they DO know. We know from current research and from sexually abused victim accounts that child sexual abuse mainly occur within families and family relationships and thus, the guidance expanding on this particular point.

In regards to what pupils should know about respectful relationships “that in school and in wider society they can expect to be treated with respect by others, and that in turn they should show due respect to others, including those in positions of authority.” the guidance needs to reflect the fact that the people who pose a risk of abuse to children are most often people who are in a positions of authority and this point therefore need to be amended.

In regards to what pupils should know about online relationships “the rules and principles for keeping safe online, how to recognise risks, harmful content and contact, and how to report them.” needs to include reference to teachers being able to talk about the harmful exposure of pornography that some pupils’ experiences during primary school. From my practice experience, and supported by current research, some primary school pupils have accessed or been exposed to online pornography and are disturbed and/or fearful of the consequences of these experiences. The guidance should acknowledge the lived experiences of pupils and allow teachers the opportunity to offer advice on “rules and principles” not just on harmful online content, but specifically mention “pornography” so that teachers feel enabled to approach the topic and respond to the needs of pupils and guide them to effective support and reporting.

In regards to what pupils should know about families and people who care for me: “that others’ families, either in school or in the wider world, sometimes look different from their family, but that they should respect those differences and know that other children’s families are also characterised by love and care for them.that stable, caring relationships, which may be of different types, are at the heart of happy families, and are important for children’s security as they grow up.that marriage/civil partnership represents a formal and legally recognised commitment of two people to each other which is intended to be lifelong.”

Should include the terminology of LGBT to protect the pupils whose family represent LGBT.

Timeliness: With the flexibility given to schools to form their own curriculum the guidance does not offer enough structure to ensue that content is delivered at critical developmental points in children’s primary education. The “end of primary” must be broken into age groups, year groups or key stages so that schools have more guidance in planning curriculum to meet the needs of the pupils at age and developmentally appropriate stages. For example: Young children will naturally be interested in learning about their own bodies and how they came to be (where babies come from) and it is paramount that children learn about the physical and emotional changes in puberty before they encounter them. For example, many girls experience menarche before the end of primary school and need relevant education about menstruation before they experience this. Without effective stage/age guidance, schools may not feel able to answer children’s questions and risk deliver important content too late.

Do you agree that the content of Relationships Education as set out in paragraphs 50-57 will provide primary school pupils with sufficient knowledge to help them have positive relationships?

OUTSPOKEN SEX ED: Strongly disagree.

Include guidelines on:

• using correct names for body parts (eg vulva, testicles, clitoris)

• critical thinking about gender equality, norms, expectations, stereotypes

• integrating LGBT inclusivity and visibility (eg using LGBT examples and resources, assuming some children are LGBT, signposting resources)

• the impact of exposure to pornography

• acknowledgement of sex as enjoyable

• menstruation and masturbation discussion – with girls and boys

In the "End of primary school table", add a bullet point discussing FGM, because primary school-aged girls are at high risk.

“those in positions of authority” could be construed as encouraging acquiescing to coercion or abuse – so delete this phrase.

Under "Being safe" add: “how to develop safeguarding practices and resilience around pornography and talk to a trusted adult about encountering disturbing images in order to process and contextualise their reactions”.

Under “Online relationships”, include pornography as an example of “harmful content”.

Under “Changing adolescent body”, add: “the importance of self-knowledge around desire and pleasure, and the role of masturbation in self-care, physical health and mental wellbeing for both girls and boys”.