September eFeature: young people reflect on their own experience of sex education
Date: 27 Sep 2018
Author: Toby and Elise
The eFeature in the September issue of the Sexual Health, Reproductive Health and HIV Policy eBulletin brings candid accounts of Toby's and Elise's own experience of sex education as well as their views on important elements of the draft guidance by the Department of Education. Both are hopeful that the changes will mean young people across the country will be better supported to enjoy safe, healthy and happy relationships.
Toby, aged 17
My experience of RSE may be somewhat different to others since I spent my primary and secondary education in Church of England schools. I was not force-fed abstinence morals and there was a good focus on the biological and physiological aspects of pregnancy and contraception. Although this is vital to young people, the lack of information on other issues such as sexual wellbeing and consent made it feel like a checkbox exercise. For certain issues, such as revenge porn and child pornography, the school brought in outside experts which was good as it removed the awkwardness of having a maths teacher talk to you about sensitive issues. Overall, my ‘RSE’ lacked key components of both relationships and sex education, which makes me wonder if it counts as RSE at all. However, what was covered, was covered well, but there were too many holes in the larger curricular framework.
The incoming guidance is much needed and welcomed by young people like me. I’m glad to see that new RSE aims to explore the different types of relationships that children will experience in their lives. Not only are romantic relationships explored, but even in primary school children will be taught and encouraged to think about their relationships with family and friends and how these can be healthy and unhealthy. Additionally, there is no mention of an intention to separate classes by gender which is good as this method, despite having its benefits, is outdated. Not only does it exclude non-binary identities but it means boys and girls are less aware of each other’s bodies and their functions - for example it further exacerbates boys’ irrational fear of periods. Also, the new guidance encourages transparency between parents and schools so that RSE can exist at home and parents will know what their children are being taught and what questions they could ask at home. I think this is good because many are concerned that RSE is the responsibility of the parent and this new guidance holistically includes both home life and education at school.
On the other hand the guidance has some limitations. I think it’s great that children are being taught about different types of relationships in primary school, but the guidance itself only says that this must have been taught by the end of primary school, creating the possibility that some issues may not be addressed soon enough. Additionally, it is fantastic that LGBT content is to be included on the national curriculum however ‘Schools are free to determine how they address LGBT specific content' is not sufficient enough considering young people are more likely to identify as LGBT than any other age group*. Furthermore, I am hugely disappointed that the right to withdraw students from RSE is still lawful, as it is normally children who need RSE the most who are denied it. Moreover, information on the right to withdraw is vague and confusing, whereas the guidance to schools should be clear and easy to understand.
'RSE is important to me because it is a simple preventative measure to many of the problems faced by young people, including the increased sexualisation of young people online and in social media. The new RSE guidance, despite its faults, is a great step in the right direction for education in this country. I hope to see the generation behind me get the education that I deserved.' - Toby, 17
Elise, aged 16
I think RSE is one of the most important educations a young person can receive. It holds critical information that a person can keep with them throughout life. It increases a young persons' safety within a relationship and allows them to know what to do if they need help. For many young people however, there is limited or no access to such an education within school. This is something that I find quite upsetting. I was one of these young people with a lack of RSE and too little information for my liking. I can remember going into an RSE 'lesson' and then later going home and having to research questions that were left unanswered and other facts that I felt were left out. However, things are changing and with this comes the new draft RSE guidance which identifies what should be included in RSE and ways in which it should be delivered.
Like any guidance there are both positives and things that still could be improved. For example, one of the points that stood out to me most was the fact that guidance takes into consideration each individual child's needs and circumstances including religious beliefs and disabilities. This is incredibly important, as it makes sure no child is left out and that it is inclusive for every student. It will provide young people with information that is relevant to them as well as ensuring their safety within their own circumstances. However, it is important that all young people have access to accurate information about all aspects of RSE and also have the opportunity to discuss the crossover of their beliefs with the law and RSE facts.
'There is an element to the new guidance that has been left a bit ambiguous and could potentially lead to students lacking the information they need. Schools still have the freedom to determine LGBT aspects of RSE. As a member of the LGBT community myself (and having received no information about LGBT relationships at school), I know first-hand how damaging and isolating that can be. Not only are you not provided with information to keep you safe but also there is a lack of understanding when it comes to sexual relationships. This can leave students feeling alone and very different to everyone else and like they have been forgotten by the system as such.' - Elise, 16
I am a strong advocate for good quality RSE and am continuously trying to make sure that young people across the country are able to access it within the comfort of their schools. With the continuous help and advocacy from organisations like Brook this is a lot more promising.
*ONS, Sexual Identity, UK: 2016
The Young People’s Manifesto: what we need and want from RSE has been created by young people like Toby and Elise . The manifesto’s 11 points outline what is considered by them to be the baseline for quality relationships and sex education (RSE) – this means LGBTQ+ inclusive, age-appropriate education that is based on facts and not opinions and is taught by trained teachers.
The content of all eFeatures in the Sexual Health, Reproductive Health & HIV Policy e-Bulletin represents the views and opinions of the authors. FSRH & coalition partners do not necessarily share or endorse the views expressed within them. You can read the September issue here and subscribe here.