Monday, 16 February 2015

Life Lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools

Today the Education Select Committee has published a landmark report Life Lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools that recommends government take action to provide statutory PSHE.  The link to the report is here and I recommend reading it - an excellent analysis and joyful conclusions

In calling for statutory PSHE it rightly recognises the importance of system change, which Brook articulated in our 21st Century SRE report in 2011.  The Committee stated "statutory status for PSHE would not in itself guarantee an improvement in the quality of teaching, but we accept that 'system change' is needed to raise the status of the subject - particularly in terms of dedicated curriculum time and the supply of suitably trained teachers".

So, this really is a landmark report that demonstrates just how strong the consensus is - the Education Select Committee is a cross party group - and just how small the vocal minority that objects to high quality sex and relationships education really is. The Education Select Committee must be congratulated on their excellent analysis and robust, common sense recommendations.

We cannot assume that the job is now done, however. Government ordinarily would publish a response to the report within 60 days, but that of course will probably not happen because we have a General Election this year, so it is my expectation that the next Government, whoever that is, will decide how to respond to the recommendations. We will be waiting and watching to ensure government does respond in due course, and that this report does not get kicked into the long grass.

I want to thank colleagues Lucy Emmerson (Sex Education Forum), Alison Hadley (Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange), Joe Hayman (PSHE Association) and Roger Ingham (Centre for Sexual Health Research) who also gave oral evidence and an enormous amount of follow up collaborative work to ensure the Committee had the facts and evidence about PSHE and SRE.

And here the link to the Supplementary Advice published by Brook with PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum almost exactly a year ago, which the Education Select Committee recommends Department of Education formally endorse

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Did we change public opinion? You bet we did!

These were the words of Caroline Woodroffe, General Secretary of Brook from 1971 - 1986 at the 50 Years of Brook Witness Seminar hosted by the Wellcome Trust on Friday 6 February to launch the Brook archive, which is now held at the Wellcome Library and is available for researchers to access. It was an honour to be asked to Chair this Witness Session in which the following witnesses told some of their personal memories of Brook.
  1. Dilys Cossey, who was at the Family Planning Association AGM in 1964 when it was agreed that Brook would be established, then become an employee and later Chair of Brook
  2. Caroline Woodroffe, General Secretary of Brook 1971 - 1986 
  3. Christine Watson, a doctor at Brook and a funder of our services in South East London between 1982 and 1997
  4. Wendy Thomas, Chief Executive of Brook London 1988 - mid 1990s
  5. Suzie Hayman, Press Officer, 1976 - 1984
  6. Polly Goodwin, Trustee, Birmingham; Chair, Brook Birmingham; Vice Chair, Brook late 90s - ongoing
  7. Mary Crawford, Director, Brook Northern Ireland 1992 - ongoing
  8. Alison Hadley, Nurse, Brook London, Press and Information Officer and Policy Manager - 1986 - 2000
  9. I also read out a memoir from Dorothy Keeping (Bourbas) who was general secretary of Brook Avon 1974 - 1984 and David Paintin who was a board member in the early 90s.
Dilys kicked off the proceedings with memories of the FPA AGM in which it was agreed that a separate service for the unmarried woman should be established. And hence Brook was born. Dilys reflected that she thought FPA rather stuffy at the time for not wanting unmarried women to use their services, but realises with the passage of time that this was a necessary approach to secure contraception free of charge on the NHS. Dilys reflected on her personal experience of accessing services which illustrated the need for a non judgemental service like Brook offered.

Caroline continued talking about the early days of Brook and the importance of contraception in achieving equality for women. She reflected on the societal changes that happened during the first few decades of Brook - the disgrace of 'young unmarried sex' gone, mother and baby centres closed, adoptions reduced and the place of women in society improved. Within Brook, the range of services offered varied across the different services: some groups of people paid for certain services and others received services free of charge. Caroline talked about the brilliant people who worked so hard and so passionately to set up and develop the services in BristolBirminghamCoventryEdinburgh and London. My favourite line from Caroline: Did we change public opinion? You bet we did!

Christine Watson went next and talked about what an inspiring bunch of people worked at Brook and how important it was to recognise that the services Brook provided complimented those services provided by the health trust, and the early days of educating young women before they got to the clinic. Christine told a rather joyful story about a school that is delivering very good, up to date and helpful sex and relationships education and how this had been very encouraging, given the inadequacy of sex and relationships education in the 80s and 90s.

Wendy Thomas started her talk with her memories with a reminder of Helen as both wonderful company and in need of managing, particularly in the media. She talked lovingly of the hazardous East Street building which saw thousands and thousands of clients and really emphasised, like the witnesses before her that it was the people who made Brook such a wonderful place for clients and for staff. She also talked about the generosity of Brook's supporters including Pamela Sheridan.

Suzie Hayman next talked about her proud moments - a paper about sex and how bizarre it was that you could not advertise condoms on TV kicked off her tenure, while her time at Brook concluded with overseeing the production of just such an advert. She also talked of how Brook became the 'go-to' place for media to go to for comment about young people, sex and sexuality. She then focused on Brook's response to Victoria Gillick's legal challenge to young people's confidentiality, and how personal it sometimes became, and how important it was to be robust in defence of young people's right to confidentiality but never personal however personal the 'anti crew' got - which they did (sounds familiar!).

Polly Goodwin took up two of the previous themes; the importance of being feisty and the importance of Brook's core values including confidentiality. Polly talked about her dismay and surprise that some of the issues in the late 80s and early 90s - consent, exploitation, gender equality - had not moved on as much as she wished they had, and thought they might. Polly also talked about the importance of being open and transparent, inviting those who object to your work in to see what you do.

Mary Crawford continued with the theme of protestors and objectors, Northern Ireland, of course being the Centre that has received the most objection and challenge during its 22 years. Mary showed photos of graffiti on the building where Brook was described as scum, a letter from an objector sent to every person in Mary's home street accusing Mary and Brook of killing babies, and pictures of Brook picketers with inaccurate images of foetuses. Mary also reflected that the first time you get a horrid letter sent to your street, your lock superglued or any other incident it can take you by surprise, but soon you become wise to the 'tricks' and incredibly resilient because the work is based on values and on the rights of young people.

Alison Hadley concluded the witness statements by returning to the theme of confidentiality and how the Gillick case had rocked young people's and professionals' confidence, which was why it was so important that Brook led such a major programme of work on confidentiality, working in partnership with the BMA, RCN, Health Education Authority and others to produce a confidentiality and young people briefing that went to all GP practices and specialist services, a leaflet for young people, and a number of guides and training events to help ensure professionals and young people were confident about confidentiality. Alison picked three key stand out Brook features: keeping the balance between the positive (sex as healthy and enjoyable) and the challenges (exploitation, abuse and harm); involving young people in all that we do; and ensuring we have people who enjoy working with young people and are committed to the aims and values of Brook.

It was a privilege to read the memories of both Dorothy Bourbas and David Paintin. Dorothy, now 90 years of age, described Helen Brook as a revolutionary with a quiet voice whose achievements have had far reaching positive implications. She concluded that she has seen many social changes, and how she wished Brook had been around when she was 18. David reflected on how he had learnt about the importance of sex education at Brook and really understood how central the ethos of providing confidential services was at Brook. He congratulated Alison Hadley on taking the ethos and approach of Brook into the government's teenage pregnancy strategy and applauded the progress of the strategy.

The audience were a mixed group of researchers and people including some who had worked at Brook including Margaret Jones who had been Chief Executive through the 1990s. Their participation also focused on their personal memories including the care and attention clients received, the joy of expanding services across the North West and the importance of being open to the critics and also asked when Brook chose to exclusively focus on young people and what drove the move from working from the unmarried to the young.

To conclude I asked all the witnesses to ask what they would like to see Brook be and have achieved in 25 years. They included - to still be here, being innovative and strong; to have finally got Personal, Social and Health Education on the curriculum; to continue being brave and speaking out for young people, and helping young people speak out; to remain at the forefront, showing how it should be done; to see the 1967 abortion law protected in Great Britain and extended to Northern Ireland; to continue being positive about sex and maintaining that mission of enabling young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm.

After thanking all involved I closed with the words of Rosa Parks: "You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right." It seemed a fitting way to end given how the fantastic women on the witness panel, many who participated in the seminar and many more who were unable to be there, have demonstrated tenacity, wisdom and courage to improve the lives of women and of young people because they know it is the right thing to do.

Thank you to Dilys Cossey, Caroline Woodroffe and Stephanie Whitehead who worked so hard to make the archive happen from Brook's end, and to Dr Lesley Hall, senior archivist at Wellcome for her work in diligently creating the Brook archive so the truly stunning and life changing work of Brook is on record. Another one of those days when I felt enormously proud, privileged and humbled to be part of the Brook movement and a powerful reminder that all of us working at Brook now stand on the shoulders of giants.

A number of people suggested we need to do a second session focusing on the last 15 years or so - what happened during the time government was broadly supportive of Brook's work, and what can we learn from that period about what needs to happen next in a different policy, political and fiscal environment? I will talk to Dr Lesley Hall and see if there is an appetite for a second Witness Seminar focusing on the later years of Brook.

In the meantime, this has made me want to produce a compilation of people's experiences and stories about Brook through the decades. If you want to contribute email me at