Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Pornography, young people, safeguarding and education

Over the weekend there has been significant press reporting about child sexual abuse images and online pornography. Yesterday David Cameron announced there will be new legislation making 'rape pornography' illegal. Beyond the accusations of censorship and an industry reluctant to engage, the realities are more subtle, the challenges more complex and the need for good education more acute.

You can read the full speech online here: http://www.conservatives.com/News/Speeches/2013/07/The_Prime_Ministers_speech_on_protecting_our_children_online.aspx.

All of us, as sensible citizens would agree that child sexual images on the Internet are abuse. All efforts to tackle this form of abuse, like all other forms of abuse must be addressed. It is my experience that politicians, young people, parents, police, children's services and industry agree on this. 

The more difficult challenge is understanding how best to protect children and young people from the pernicious effects of online pornography that they don't want to access, whilst recognising that technological solutions – filters – trying to do this may also prevent young people accessing vital information online that is both educational and/or advice and support for those experiencing difficulty.

Brook, and other youth agencies have already experienced being 'blocked' in the past because our content has been deemed unacceptable.  As a result our site has been placed on a 'black list' by a machine sometimes taking a long time to unblock, and young people not receiving vital information whilst this takes weeks to resolve. Solutions must be proportionate. Efforts to protect young people from harm must not create more harm than good through unintended impact.

Mr Cameron’s speech did make reference to some of the points I highlight in this blog post, and I am emphasising where extra special care has to be taken.

Some of those unintended impacts are a narrative that all pornography is bad, and all viewing of pornography leads to harm. The evidence is less clear than this. Our experience at Brook is that pornography is undoubtedly part of an increasing source of education for young people. That is worrying in the absence of trusted, reliable sources of education – parents, schools, youth and community organisations. See this article from WAtoday (Western Australia's news website) which highlights research on the impact of the lack of sex and relationships education and driving young people to look online and at pornography for information about what sex is like: http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/porn-becoming-substitute-for-sex-education-20130719-2q9e7.html. And we also know from our experience at Brook that most young people can distinguish between the fantasy as provided by pornography and the reality of real life relationships. It is our job to make sure they do.

The second unintended impact is a narrative that depicts technology as bad and largely ignores the positive benefits, including the fact that young people access tremendous amounts of information, advice and support via the Internet that can often quite literally be a life saver. 
Technology is of course expected to provide the solution and the answer. Yet we know that it can't and it won't alone. And that is why I worry that in all this tough on industry rhetoric there isn't a stronger accompanying message which emphasises the important role of education. The important role of parents, of schools and of communities in teaching about online safety, and about using the Internet well to benefit from all the brilliant help and advice it can offer.
Much more emphasis could be placed on school based sex and relationships education as part of the solution - a universal entitlement that forms part of our duty to safeguard, protect and empower young people. So my advice to Mr Cameron is be tough on industry yes, and please work with them to use their capabilities and resources well. I would also advise him to demonstrate he will do all he can by being tough on his Ministry for Education as they conclude their National Curriculum consultation which closes on 8 August. The PSHE Association has written to Ministers with recommendations about how to reflect a strong commitment to PSHE as evidenced in documents from Home Office, DH and indeed DfE.
A simple statement in the National Curriculum from government about the vital role of PSHE in protecting children and young people such as the one below could be a game changer and demonstrate he means business – 'It is expected that all schools will deliver Personal,  Social, Health, and Economic education to meet the statutory requirements to support children and young people's spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and to prepare children and young people to live, grow and learn in an ever changing, fast paced and technologically driven global economy.'
I know any action to improve school based sex and relationships education coupled with technological solutions and support for parents will be supported by the absolute majority including organisations such as MumsNet, the Office of the Children's Commissioner, the PSHE Association, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and the Sex Education Forum.
Finally, my advice would be make sure the organisations who work with children AND young people are involved – and be clear with different age groups come different realities – and most importantly ensure young people's views constantly drive government thinking and policy proposals. We know at Brook they have a lot of ideas and thoughts about online pornography – some similar and some more nuanced because they are living their lives now. The quote below from a young person involved with Brook shows just how much they have to offer:
“…I think instead of stopping young people watching porn, it is an inevtiabilty which will occur. I think the focus of the debate should be around teachig young people, the differences between porn and reality, so that this doesn't give off unrealistic images to younger people about how they should look or act sexually, there should be emphasis on teaching the rights and wrongs of vewing different types of porn.”

Saturday, 13 July 2013

PSHE: a liberating mandate

This week I had the pleasure of speaking at a Westminster Briefing Event about Personal, Social and Health Education.  I was fourth to go in an impressive line up of speakers so when planning my presentation I was pretty sure there would be a whole lot of duplication if I wasn't careful.  I therefore abandoned powerpoint so I wouldn't be a slave to it come what may.  I went with a few key messages, and a view to identifying and addressing the issues delegates raised throughout the session.

This approach can be a bit unnerving but it has always served me well in the past, and so it proved this time too.  Joe, Jenny and Janet from PSHE Association and Ofsted were excellent and did indeed cover all the issues I would have and more had I prepared a powerpoint.

If you read no further, here is a key message from the session - Ofsted is clear there is a correlation between outstanding PSHE and outstanding schools.  This is an important piece of evidence and a big carrot for anyone trying to get more curriculum time and resources for PSHE.  It also seems to have been missed by many in the recent PSHE report 'Not good enough yet' from Ofsted.

Here are some of the other key points from the morning.

1. DfE have published their revised National Curriculum proposals (consultation ends first week of August). It is not proposed that PSHE is a compulsory subject, however there is a clear expectation and mandate that PSHE should form part of a balanced curriculum. For the first time ever it is clear that maintained secondary schools are required to provide sex and relationships (my emphasis) education which is excellent.

Not unexpectedly there was a consensus from speakers and delegates that schools can only fulfil their requirements to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, and support their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development if they provide PSHE.

Once the final National Curriculum is published, as far as PSHE is concerned DfE is not going to do much more.  We therefore need to look to Ofsted with confidence to ensure that provision for personal, social development is part of the inspection regime.  Janet Palmer from Ofsted emphasised that children and young people are much more involved in the inspection process than previously and so their health and well being does come to the fore more during inspection.

With the expectation from DfE that PSHE will be delivered, and the knowledge that DfE will not be producing further guidance we are now liberated and mandated to get on with it ourselves. The teachers and partners who work within them are free to get on and deliver without the shadow of politicisation on the subject.

It will be up to schools to develop and deliver a curriculum that meets their children's needs, and it will be beholden on us to find out where it is working well and share examples of best practice.  Organisations such as The PSHE Association, Sex Education Forum and ourselves at Brook will continue to share learning from schools across the country, and provide training and support.

We must use this opportunity that has been created to generate a new dialogue that helps senior leaders recognise and understand the value of PSHE in creating safe schools where all children can achieve, develop and grow with confidence, and that teachers are supported and trained to deliver PSHE confidently.

2. The major teaching Unions are all increasingly supportive of the need for PSHE.  That increasing support is really welcome and their influence and leadership will help improvement.

3. Whilst some young people do experience disadvantage and can be extremely vulnerable to abuse and violence as a result, we have a heightened and disproportionate sense of risk and danger to, and threat from young people that is out of step with the evidence of what life is really like.  We also sometimes expect PSHE (and school) to be a panacea for all societal problems which it cannot be.

It is important to remember we live in the most peaceful times ever.  Most young people, with the right support and care, navigate their way through adolescence successfully, and demonstrate incredible talent and resourcefulness along the way.  PSHE and access to confidential sexual health and support services is a universal right and entitlement for all children and young people. Additional targeted support can and must be provided for those young people who need it both within and outside the classroom.

To help professionals realistically assess harm Brook has an online safeguarding Traffic Light Tool which can help professionals to identify and assess sexual behaviours - it can be found at www.brook.org.uk/traffic-lights

4. We must helpfully stop calling some issues 'sensitive'.  There are a cluster of issues including homosexuality, sexual exploitation and FGM which are often referred to as sensitive.

If we frame them as sensitive issues they will continue to be perceived as such for generations to come.  Some adults may find issues difficult to talk about, and of care always needs to be taken when discussing these issues in the classroom but that does not make it a sensitive issue.  Sexual exploitation and FGM are both abuse and must be talked about and must be described as as such.  Schools have a duty to promote equality and in the words of Stonewall, 'some people are gay, get over it'.

5. There is absolutely no legislation that says certain issues cannot be talked about in the classroom - as with all lessons, the school policy provides the framework within which teachers use their professional judgement about what to say and how to say it.  If the teacher considers it inappropriate to discuss an issue or answer a question in a classroom environment it is the teachers responsibility to either speak in a 1:1 setting or signpost the young person to somebody who can help them.

6. To end where I started, there is a clear link between educational attainment and PSHE.  This combined with our moral imperative to ensure children and young people have the skills and resourcefulness to move with confidence through puberty, into adolescence and adulthood makes this mandate and fresh commitment from DfE to the relationships part of sex and relationships education a welcome one.

Useful websites www.psheassociation.org.uk, www.sexeducationforum.org.uk and of course www.brook.org.uk

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