Sex education in schools has matured a bit since the hilarious condom-on-the-banana era. From this academic year all schools in England will be required to teach Relationship and Sex Education (RSE).
Primary schools are to concentrate on building healthy relationships and staying safe. Teenagers will learn about sex as well and the government has stated that all schools will “ensure that young people whatever their developing sexuality or gender feel that RSE is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs”. In other words transgender issues and other potentially tricky topics are firmly on the agenda. Cyberbullying, sexting and online safety are there too.
Well, I’m all for openness, honesty and being direct with young people irrespective of their age and the delicacy of the subject. Two cheers for this initiative, then.
I’m holding back the third cheer because I have serious reservations about the concept of turning learning about sex and relationships into a timetabled lesson with learning objectives, lesson plans and all the rest of it. Relationships and sex are part of life – all of life. They can’t be pigeon-holed or sidelined. Every teacher of every subject should be dealing with such important matters as and when they arise.
The whole of English literature, for example, is about relationships of every kind. Was Shakespeare, for example, bi-sexual? Consider all those cross gender roles and talk about them. It’s quite a springboard.
Students will meet characters such as Henry VIII and Oscar Wilde in history lessons. Geography could lead to some of the countries which still ruthlessly punish sexual minorities. Alan Turing could come up in science, while art history and music will throw up some colourfully complex personalities.
In short RSE should be a cross-curricular subject tackled with confidence by every teacher as and when it’s relevant. We want young people to take this – and themselves – seriously and to learn from people they respect. It’s an excellent basis for exploring something so important in an atmosphere of mutual trust.
RSE will never, in my view, work properly as a discrete lesson taught by some sort of ‘expert’ who’s probably a nurse or former PSHE teacher, who’s just done a two-day conversion course. To be really useful sex education must be grafted in, not bolted on.
- words: Susan Elkin
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