UK: On Sex Ed, Dept for Education Doesn’t Follow Own Advice

Even though the majority of British parents want schools to provide sex education to their students, the topic gets hardly any mention in the primary education stages of the recently unveiled national curriculum. According to Joe Hayman, the chief executive of PSHE Association, the omission could serve to undermine the recent gains made in England and Wales in bringing down rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy.

Furthermore, a 2013 Ofsted report pointed out that unless children in primary schools got at least a grounding in human reproduction, they would not have the vocabulary to communicate things like sexual abuse.

Hayman’s issue seems to be with the fact that key stage one doesn’t specify genitalia as one of the parts of the body for which students need to learn proper names. The note states that students should know body parts like head, neck, arms, elbows, legs and knees. Not specifying the body parts involved in human reproduction could make teachers hesitant about teaching them.

This is not an isolated example. In the current draft of the Year 2 curriculum, the document states:

“[Pupils] should not be expected to understand how reproduction occurs.”

In each example, there is an implicit or explicit message to teachers about what children should not be expected to learn. Yet when launching the new curriculum framework, Michael Gove said: “Each school should have the freedom to shape the curriculum to their particular pupils’ aspirations and priorities … so we’ve specifically stripped out unnecessary prescription about how to teach.”

Hayman calls these changes “regressive,” and says that specifically saying that children should not be taught the basics of human reproduction is rather contrary to the assertion that the government wants to leave the what and the how up to the teachers. Almost no other topic is specifically prescribed in such a way.

A number of health organizations and parents’ groups expressed these concerns in a letter to The Daily Telegraph this week. Among other things, the letter asks that the government follow its own advice and leave the decisions on age-appropriate teaching of reproduction to teachers.

By restricting what pupils learn about their bodies, even when they are mature enough to do so and parents want that support from schools, taboos are created and perpetuated which can put pupils at risk of harm. Government should help teachers and parents to answer questions about their bodies, not make it more difficult for them.