The Sex Education Show part two

I’m writing this in front of The Jeremy Kyle show. As per usual, there is wrangling over who’s the father, DNA testing and accusations flying around the room. People shagging other people indiscriminately and without contraception or feeling.

And I hear from schools, teachers, politicians and religious groups all the time that PSHE and in particular Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) is a waste of time on the school curriculum. Right.

Congratulations to Channel Four then for The Sex Education Show. Show number two last night was very busy. There were the usual squirming, red-faced teenagers being shown real naked bodies. Surprise! They don’t look like they do in that porn you download. Human bodies are a bit wonky and lumpy and hairy and chances are you’ll be sharing a bed with one of them before you know it.

It was interesting to see the programme dealing with arousal, a topic that is a part of very few SRE programmes deal with. There was also information on what the law says about sex. That surprised the students, especially the information about ‘sexting.’

Parents and students were brought together for the excruciating sex talk. Well done to the parents for being frank and helpful but I wonder why they didn’t start talking to their kids before now. I always advise parents that sex and relationships should be an on-going topic of discussion, not a one off when the kids are well past puberty.

All this and Anna Richardson and her scary hair bellowing at WHSmith about putting lads’ mags on lower shelves where small children can see them. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: why is it ok to have magazines full of pneumatic soap stars and models but we get our knickers in a twist when it comes to talking to children about real sex and real relationships? Newspapers work themselves up into a frenzy  with salacious headlines , politicians whinge about teenage pregnancy and soaring STI rates but do nothing about them and religious groups tell us that sex is something that parents should talk to their children about. Absolutely, yes they should. But do they? All of them? With the guidance and support they need?

I was exhausted after watching last night’s episode which may have something to do with the fact that I was at twisting my creaking joints into unnatural positions at yoga but may be more to do with the programme being rather crammed. It feels like the researchers wanted to cover too much but were only given three programmes.

Being The Sex Education Show, it covered just sex but I’d love to see Channel Four coming up with a relationships programme. But I guess that’s a hope too far. Meanwhile on Jeremy Kyle it’s,  ‘You had a one night stand at a party- prove your baby’s mine.’

Sigh.

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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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