When I read the Government is going to undertake a radical overhaul of sex and relationship education in schools I let out a whoop of joy. It’s been a long time coming.
Fifteen or so years ago I was a consultant to broadcaster Channel 4 which was planning a series of SRE programmes to be shown in schools from the age of five.
But we had to overcome a major first hurdle – teachers.
Teachers were allowed to opt out and not show the programmes – which they did in large numbers – so the project bit the dust.
Surely we can get further than that now? Under the Government’s new outline, children will learn about healthy adult relationships from the age of four and sex education will become compulsory in all secondary schools. And about time too, given the challenges young people have to face.
Between a quarter and a third of 16 to 18-year-old girls have had to cope with unwanted sexual touching at school and three-quarters are anxious about harassment.
Surveys reveal worsening unhappiness and self-esteem, often linked to social media pressures to perform, be constantly connected and look good.
There are rafts of evidence showing that good sex and relationship education delivered by motivated people is highly effective.
It’s also most effective when part of a broader life-skills programme dedicated to preparing the young for the world of work and beyond.
This holistic approach also avoids children being bombarded with numerous separate topics, artificially separated into “mental health”, “drugs and alcohol”, “online safety” and “ cyberbullying”. The goal is responsible decision-making that helps build resilience.
As Dr Elly Hanson, a clinical psychologist says, empathy, media literacy, self-reflection, and even moral philosophy can help young people work out their desires and their values and develop positive identities.
Complementing this work would be skills in communication, regulation of emotion and building self-confidence. Good relationships aren’t separable from the rest of life, she says.
I believe all children have the right to this education. I’m convinced if properly delivered, there could be many positive knock-on effects.
It can help spark conversations between parents and children that both want to have but aren’t sure how to begin. Plus, one young person’s good-quality sex education affects the wellbeing of the others around them.
I’m thrilled the Government is taking action. We must ensure sex and relationship education is available to all. It should be embedded within the wider curriculum. Our young people deserve nothing less.