That’s Life! The government appoints charity to sexual health advisory group

The trouble with health education and dealing with issues like sex, drugs and alcohol is that many people have very fixed ideas about what children and young people should learn. Add to this the fact that teachers are often anxious and unsure of how and what to teach and parents are anxious about their children are learning and we have a very shaky situation. When the phone rings and someone offers to come and teach about sex or drugs to students, many head teachers and teachers breathe a sigh of relief and quickly book them in.

But how many schools take the time (or indeed have the time) to do a little research on these groups? A quick google is usually all it takes to find out what you need to know. There are some excellent groups out there teaching SRE and drug and alcohol education but there are an awful lot of charlatans too and my worry is that more and more of these charlatans will find their way into schools because local authority staff are not there to advise them.

I used to get regular phonecalls from schools asking me about groups that had contacted them. Part of my job was the check these people out. I’d observe lessons, check lesson plans and watch theatre groups in action to see if what they were offering was in line with good practice. I’d tell schools to ask for detailed lesson plans and references before booking. Anyone with good track record will be happy to offer these.

A good example of this is Narcanon. A quick search on the internet will tell you that they’re Scientologists and offer lessons based on L Ron Hubbard’s teachings. Now they don’t call up and say, ‘Hi! We’re the Scientologists and we’d like to give your students some spurious Science about drugs.’ If you’ve done your research and believe that they are a group who should be speaking to your pupils then, fine, invite them in. but make sure the parents know what their children are learning and from whom.

Another group who offer talks to schools are Life. This pro-life charity will come and talk to your children about how a baby grows (primary) and about abortion and assisted reproduction (secondary)and to be fair to Life, they offer clear, detailed lesson plans and are a hit with many schools, including faith schools. I advise schools again to do their research carefully and make an informed decision while informing parents of exactly who is talking to their children as part of a well-planned programme of SRE that addresses the needs of all children. The fact remains, however, that Life is a group with an agenda and a point to get across. 

It was interesting to see then that Life has been given membership of the government’s sexual health forum while the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been given its marching orders.

Abortion issues have always been a hot political potato in the US but in the UK we’ve usually taken the pro-choice stance. It seems now that the coalition government is looking west for all things sexual health. If I was an MP I’d be looking towards countries where teenage pregnancy, STIs and were lower than ours and find out what they were doing right. Our American cousins do many things well but sexual health? Not so much. What next? Looking to see how the US addresses childhood obesity and demanding that chips and turkey twizzlers are brought back into schools?

BD (before Dorries) I’d have been horrified by this latest move but now? I’m feeling jaded, fed up and more than a little depressed. Those of us who are passionate about children’s health are not all leftie lunatics; we do what we do because we believe that we can make things better.

Next time, Mr Cameron et al, just give us a call and we’ll be there to help. Agenda-free.

For more information on pro-choice check out Education for Choice.

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PSHE- the forgotten subject?

In the comments on my post about student demonstrations, ‘Citizen CW’ drew my attention to the website of the Campaign for Real Education so I dropped by and had a look. As an educator who is passionate about excellent learning in the state system I was horrified. I haven’t read such fantasy since Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the CRE have attacked PSHE in particular.

 PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education) is the forgotten subject of the national curriculum. It’s non-statutory so schools don’t have to teach it but I’ve yet to meet a school that doesn’t have PSHE on the curriculum even though there aren’t any qualifications in it and in these legaue table-driven times that’s saying something. Where it’s taught well, students are engaged and interested and learn the knowledge, skills and attitudes that support them in life.

 The previous government wanted PSHE to be a statutory subject area in schools but they waited until 2009 to bring in a bill and this was lost at wash-up at the beginning of this year.

 We didn’t have PSHE when I was at school because it was expected that our parents would teach us the stuff we needed but the world has changed immeasurably since then. PSHE is essential in order for all students to be well informed on all aspects of health including learning about sex, relationships, drugs, alcohol, money, food, bullying and mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Problems we simply didn’t experience a few years ago are now part of our children’s lives and need to be tackled via PSHE: cyber bullying and online safety is a massive issue for young people and sexual bullying is on the increase. Knife crime and hate crime are daily occurrences in all children’s lives and not just those living on sink estates in cities.

 Good PSHE gives children the skills to deal with these issues and offers them the space and time to reflect on their own attitudes and learn skills to cope. It shows them how to access support and help if these are not available at home and gives young people the tools to be safe and healthy in all aspects of their lives. 

Sadly, where PSHE is taught badly it’s a waste of everyone’s time and this is why teachers- particularly those in secondary schools who are not PSHE trained- need support, networking and training. Try teaching a class of teens about contraception if you’ve not had the training or answer questions about how harmful the latest legal and illegal drugs are.

 But the CrE have their own ideas and these are absolutely not grounded in fact. It describes Sex and Relationships Education (SRE, the word ‘relationships’ is absolutely key), an integral part of PSHE as being ‘value free.’ The most recent government guidance on SRE is from 2000 and clearly states that SRE should include these attitudes and values:

learning the importance of values and individual conscience and moral considerations;

learning the value of family life, marriage, and stable and loving relationships for the nurture of children;

learning the value of respect, love and care;

exploring, considering and understanding moral dilemmas; and developing critical thinking as part of decision-making.

Not so ‘value-free’ after all.

It also calls SRE ‘a disaster’ as teenage pregnancy rates have remained stable (nationally) despite SRE being taught in schools. Good SRE is one factor in teenage pregnancy but only one. There are many more factors including social housing and deprivation. Where I work we have reduced teenage pregnancy significantly through a huge joint operation and partnership working but it’s an uphill struggle. Blaming schools and one subject area in particular for teenage pregnancy is way too simplistic. We may as well say that every sixteen year old should be a Maths genius because they’ve been taught it at school since they were five years old.

The CRE also mistakenly lump together PSHE and Citizenship and call it ‘PSHCE.’ This is incorrect. Citizenship is a separate subject and has been statutory since 2002. They also state that PSHE is a ‘secular alternative to Religious Education.’ Again, incorrect. RE is a different subject again and PSHE does not replace RE and never will and there is certainly no campaign among teachers to see that this happens.

In a section on advice to parents the website states that, ‘although all schools may need to pay lip-service to PSHCE, the better ones will give it little time or credence,’ and when it comes to SRE, ‘good primary heads will almost certainly decide they have more important priorities.’ This it rubbish. I work with excellent head teachers and superb schools and the best teach PSHE as both a discrete and integral part of the school day. All teach SRE well and communicate effectively with parents and carers about children’s learning. I haven’t even begun to explore how good PSHE raises school attainment and grades.

It’s difficult enough being a parent without campaign groups like this adding fuel to the fire and it’s bloody hard growing up as a child in the 21st century. PSHE teaches children about the real world in a supportive and age-appropriate climate and enables them to be considerate and emotionally intelligent adults and I for one can’t see anything wrong with that.

Further reading:

Sex and Relationship Education Guidance. DfEE, 2000.

The MacDonald independent review into PSHE, DfE 2009.

PSHE Association- the subject association for teachers of PSHE.

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