Content warning: mentions of rape and non-consensual touching.
British schoolchildren aged 11 and up who attend local authority-run schools will soon not be the only students whose schools are required to provide sexual education classes. Currently, sex ed is only compulsory for secondary schools that are run by their local authority. This is about to change.
Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) is about to become mandatory. The Government is in talks to table an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, which will start providing SRE classes on healthy adult relationships to students aged 4 years and older. MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities Sarah Champion paved the way for the bill, and has called the MP backing and the expected changes a “significant shift.” New amendments will expand SRE to cover cyber bullying, sexting, and online porn.
Whilst the starting age might seem young, the amendment will be age appropriate depending on whether students are in primary or secondary school. Maria Miller MP, fellow campaigner and Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, explained as follows: “The average age of a child to have its first mobile phone is nine, and we have to make sure that children understand the importance of relationships when dealing with the online world.”
In 2016, a parliamentary report revealed that “almost a third of 16 to 18 year-old girls had experienced unwanted touching at school.” Clearly, consent and safe use of technology in sexual and romantic relationships are important and highly relevant topics to broach.
Teenage conception has halved since 1998, and dropped 12.5% since 2011 alone. Whereas teenage pregnancy rates steadily rose in the UK since the 60s, reaching a peak in the 80s, now only an estimated 30.9 teens fall pregnant per every thousand. Sexual activity has not changed in the past 20 years, and the average age of a first sexual encounter remains 16. Conception, however, has fallen for under 20s, and risen for people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.
This dramatic shift in pregnancy rates is thanks to a 1999 teenage pregnancy strategy, which involved bettering access to contraception, increasing sexual health education in schools, and working locally in economically deprived areas.
Keeping in mind the successes of the campaign, it is time to modernise sex education. We need to include education on relationships, sexual orientation and gender fluidity, as well as on how the Internet has changed relationships.
Nakita H Halil, of the UK’s sexual health charity Family Planning Association, reminds us that “There is no room for complacency, and we must focus more than ever on the provision of quality sex and relationships education and ensure local services are not jeopardised by changes to commissioning arrangements and funding cuts. While the figures are promising, we are still not at the levels recorded in comparable western European countries, so we must keep up the momentum.”
Featured image credit: Paul McErlane