Saturday, 5 July 2008

Sex and relationships education

Children, young people, parents, carers and professionals overwhelmingly agree that education about emotions, relationships, keeping safe, growing and developing must start when children are very young so they grow, learn and develop with confidence.  As they get older they need specific information about puberty, about relationships and about conception, reproduction, contraception, sex, sexuality and sexual health.    Children and young people repeatedly ask for education that explore emotions and real life dilemmas, as well as biological information and the development of everyday life skills.   Their right to this education is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Yesterday, Brook ( and fpa ( reaffirmed their commitment to children and young people's emotional and social development, and called on governments' across the UK to ensure children and young people's entitlement by committing to statutory provision of Personal, Social and Health Education in schools.  This is nothing new, indeed both the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group and the Sexual Health and HIV Advisory Group - both expert groups set up to provide advice to government in England, have been calling for statutory PSHE for many years.  Two perennial issues arose through the day;

The name sex and relationships education

many primary schools call it family education; growing up; being me.  I don't mind what it is called, I just want children to get the education they ask for, need and deserve.   Some journalists persisted in calling the subject sex education, instead of sex and relationships education.  This is an unnecessary way of trying to politicise the issue and frighten people.  Sex and relationships education in the primary school, is not about teaching four year olds to have sex.  It is about keeping safe, learning about changing and growing, emotions, learning to live, learn and play with other children who are similar and different from them.

The role of parents 

Parents and carers must be children's first educator.  Children want them to be.  And schools are parents partners.  Brook and fpa both are committed to supporting parents to talk to their children about relationships and sex, and to engage effectively in partnership with schools.  Indeed fpa has over the last decade been running a highly successful programme to support parents called Speakeasy.   As with all area of life, children learn in a progressive way from a range of different sources.   

Northern Ireland requires all schools to provide relationships and sexuality education.  There is a strong and growing consensus in England that there must be statutory Personal, Social and Health Education, where relationships and sex is taught.  There is no need for heated debate - instead we need sensible discussion about how parents, children, young people and professionals can work together to ensure all children have the education, support and skills they need to be grow and live healthy confident lives.

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