Sex and relationship education – Don’t Forget the R in SRE
Penny Mansfield, Director at relationship charity OnePlusOne, shares her thoughts on today’s call from The Education Select Committee to make SRE compulsory in schools.
Why are relationships so important?
According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004) the quality and stability of human relationships in the early years lay the foundation for a wide range of later outcomes that really matter – self-confidence, sound mental health, motivation to learn, achievement in school and through out life, the ability to control aggressive impulses and resolve conflicts in non-violent ways, knowing the difference between right and wrong, having the capacity to develop and maintain casual friendships and intimate relationships and ultimately to be a successful parent oneself.
Education is where children and young people spend much of their formative years. We are beginning to realise that the so called ‘soft skills’ or social and emotional intelligence are crucial in improving educational and employment outcomes, better physical and mental health and reducing risky behaviour.
A meta-analysis of 119 studies (Cornelius-White, 2007) found that the influence of relationships between school students and teachers was stronger than that of many other types of educational interventions. The impact of positive educational relationships may be particularly important for the most disadvantaged children and young people.
Teachers need training and access to high quality engaging content
While 90% of students (NUS survey) want to see sex and relationship education become statutory they do not want more of what they are currently receiving – less than a third rated their school SRE as good or very good. At the recent AGM of the National Children’s Bureau young members asked for better content and better delivery and an emphasis upon relationships – a particularly memorable quote being, “I’ll be leaving school knowing the periodic table but not what a healthy relationships is”.
Effective SRE requires teachers having the skills to deliver SRE with confidence and high quality age appropriate content which fully engages their students.
Relationship science is a good place to start
One of the criticisms of current SRE is the focus on reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases with less emphasis upon consent and pornography. Through relationship science we know a lot about how relationships work and go wrong, how to form strong, respectful and satisfying relationships and to cope with difficult issues and manage conflict. Equipping young people and young adults with the knowledge and skills to form and maintain healthy relationships is offering them the means to secure their future health and wellbeing.