Five Minutes With: The Sex Education Forum
We spent five minutes with Lucy Emmerson from The Sex Education Forum to discuss their campaign for high-quality #RelationshipEd to be made compulsory in schools.
Hi Lucy, can you tell us a bit about what you do at the Sex Education Forum?
The Sex Education Forum is a coalition of organisations and individuals committed to improving the quality of sex and relationships education (SRE) for children and young people. I am the Coordinator, and much of my role is about communications, for example making sure our core members know about policy developments and then communicating our beliefs about SRE to the public and government. I also write resources for schools.
What is the main purpose of the SEF? What projects/ campaigns is it focusing on this year?
We want better SRE for ALL children and young people. Evidence is the starting point – that’s the voices of young people telling us that their SRE is lacking, reports from Ofsted saying that over a third of schools have inadequate SRE, and findings from academic research. We use evidence in our campaigns work so that people understand that there is support for SRE, for example from parents. With weeks to go until the general election we are campaigning for all political parties to make a manifesto commitment to statutory SRE. There are two Bills due to be presented in parliament on 27th February, and if these are supported it would make SRE statutory, so we are calling on all our supporters to write to their MPs about this.
Our project work is varied. I’m really excited about a new project working with primary school teachers to find creative approaches to puberty education.
What do you think are the main things lacking in sex and relationship education today?
Confidence, competence and political commitment. Until we have a government that says ‘yes, SRE is EVERY child’s right’ and makes the necessary changes to legislation there will continue to be schools that opt out and leave their pupils at risk. With SRE having status as a ‘proper’ subject it is very likely that investment in teacher training would follow. There are more than enough teachers who want to teach SRE well – but don’t currently have the confidence, skills and support to do so.
What do you hear most from young people about their experiences?
About another ‘c’ that is lacking in SRE …. consent. Young people say that they know the main legal facts – like the age of consent to sex being 16 years old, but that they have had precious little discussion about real-life relationship situations – where consent is often not clear. Sadly, there are too many stories from young people about what they wish they had learnt.
I also hear from young people who reached a turning point in their lives because they had good SRE. For example a young man who came out as gay at school because he felt entirely supported to do so because of the tone set by his school SRE classes. I was also contacted by a young woman recently who had learnt lots from her mother and wanted to campaign for all young people to learn in more detail about sexual health at school.
What do you think young people want/need?
Children and young people have a right to factual information about their bodies, growing up and what is appropriate vs abusive behaviour. They want this learning to be enjoyable and to have the chance for discussion and hearing each other’s views. Children and young people also need to be trusted and they need adults who are not frightened of educating them about sex and relationships.
Do you think school is the best/only place young people should access sex and relationship education?
Almost every child goes to school – so having SRE in the curriculum is the best way of making sure it reaches everyone. School is also a source of reliable information – if teachers are trained to deliver SRE effectively. But school is not the only place young people should be accessing SRE. Children say they want to have open conversations with their parents too – and there is something different that discussions at home can bring – that are more personal and private. But the reality is that many parents want to have these conversations but lots don’t because they are too embarrassed and don’t know how to begin.
If you could go back and give your 16 year old self one piece of relationship advice, what would it be?
Love yourself first.
Find out more about the Sex Education Forum and become a member at: www.sexeducationforum.org.uk