Posted on 02 March 2017 by Rachel Warwick
A New Relationship Status
Yesterday the status of Relationships and Sex Education in schools in England changed.
But imagine if yesterday’s headline had read ‘Government to make teaching of relationships and sex compulsory in all families in England.’
It didn’t. And maybe because as a society we find it so difficult to talk about the things that matter most to young people, it has yet again fallen to schools to be doing the talking for us.
Well. That’s one way of looking at it.
Another is that at long last the powers that be are accepting what we’ve known all along, that the slap dash approach to sex education has seen a generation of young people grow up in a world of wall to wall digital sexual content with very little to help them navigate their own and each other’s wellbeing.
Yesterday we heard that Relationships and Sex Education has become compulsory in all secondary schools in England. When I say all schools, I mean all; State, Free, Faith and everything in between. Years of campaigning, both for and against, ended on the 1st March 2017 when the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, revealed the amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill.
So what happens now?
The Government is keen to bring the old ‘increasingly outdated’ curriculum (produced in 2000) up to date, with more of an emphasis on relationship education as well as the modern phenomena of online porn and sexting. Putting all this into the hands of already overworked teachers may feel like a step too far. There is genuine concern that parents who want to raise their children with a faith-driven sexual ethic might have a new fight on their hands. As for now, parents will be allowed to remove their child from any RSE lesson. But remember that the most important RSE curriculum starts at home. Years of orbiting the lives of adults in their families lays down the blueprint for future relationships in a way that an RSE lesson can’t. Let’s not wait for schools to start the conversations with our children about something as important as relational wellbeing and sexual intimacy.
But I believe that this offers those of us who specialise in Relationship Education a unique opportunity to add our voice to shaping the dynamic of classroom conversations about relationships and enhancing young people’s development in this key area.
Relationships and Sex Educator, Gareth Cheesman from acet UK, got it right when he tweeted yesterday, ‘I have 3 questions for the new RSE status; ‘What will the content be?’ ‘What support will teachers get for training? ‘What will the role of external speakers be?’
To make sure this new compulsory curriculum is the best it can be we need to be putting the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of young people first. I want to see the creation of a curriculum that has the vision and will to:
1 Empower young people to explore and develop their own values framework to help them to confidently navigate both their online and offline relationships safely. This cannot be done in isolation from the families and communities young people come from, so…
2 Reach out to parents and members of young people’s faith and wider community, not just to tick boxes, but to learn the barriers and keys to young people’s engagement in growing healthy attitudes to sex and relationships.
3 Create a culture of safety and respect so that all young people feel valued and able to lead positively in their own lives.
4 Think carefully about the stage, age and background of young people.
5 Prepare young people with skills in decision making, communication and consent (refusal and negotiation).
6 Make sure we talk about the wide range of choices young people have, including abstinence from sexual activity, sexting and viewing porn.
7 Use trained educators to enrich the curriculum and expand young people’s vision of how healthy relationships contribute to a healthy society.
8 Strengthen the formation of young people’s moral character not just download the information.
9 Download the information. We should be arming young people with facts about the impact of sexual behaviour on their physical, emotional and social wellbeing as well as their relationships.
10 Shout loud that it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep young people safe online and offline - this includes phone companies, internet regulators, porn producers, magazine sellers, taxi companies, neighbours, youth groups, RSE teachers, parents etc…
When it comes to Relationships and Sex Education, compulsory or not, our task is to help young people feel more in control of their actions. To be more engaged with their emotions, more invested in their community, more aware of their value, more confident of their values, more inspired by their potential, more empowered by their hopes, more informed in their choices and more committed in their relationships.
We’re going to be doing our very best to offer churches the very best, so that churches can offer their local schools and young people the very best. Why not come along to one of our training or equipping events to find out how you can be a voice for positive relationships for this incredible generation of young people.