What do the manifestos say about sex and relationships education?, asks Lucy Emmerson, Coordinator, Sex Education Forum.
For 28 years, the Sex Education Forum has been campaigning for better sex and relationships education (SRE), so at General Election time it is usual for us to search through party manifestos in the hope of seeing commitments that take us closer to an entitlement to good quality SRE for every child and young person.
The good news is that this time round progress is tangible. Four out of five of the leading English parties’ manifestos mention SRE specifically. We are proud of the fact that SRE has been an election issue, reflecting the fact that it matters to very many people and that there is not satisfaction with the status quo.
In recent weeks, we have encouraged people to engage with all their MP candidates by asking what their thoughts are on providing SRE in all schools, training teachers in the subject and ensuring good communication between schools and parents about SRE provision. As a result, over 1,000 candidates have received email letters on the subject and voters have appreciated the personal and often rapid replies they have received.
Asking MP candidates their views is one way of starting up new conversations about SRE – and this is important, because the more people talk about it and understand what good quality SRE is really all about, the more support there is for improving provision.
Although there is no mention of SRE or personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education in the Conservative party manifesto, we still have the sound ringing in our ears of Graham Stuart, Chair of the all-party Education Select Committee recommending that SRE becomes statutory in all primary and secondary schools in order to keep children safe. This recognition of the preventative and safety value of early SRE is echoed in the UKIP party manifesto, which supports teaching children that no one else is allowed to touch the private parts of their body, in order to help prevent and encourage reporting of abuse.
A commitment to make SRE compulsory is made in the Labour party manifesto and this is extended to broader PSHE in the Liberal Democrat party and Green party manifestos. Charlie Webster’s excellent interviews with party leaders for Cosmopolitan magazine provides an accessible summary of the party positions.
No matter what the outcome of the General Election, the Sex Education Forum and our members will continue to drive conversations about SRE. Evidence is always an important reference point – and we have just published an accessible and up-to-date summary of the research. This includes infographics from the Natsal-3 survey that paint a picture of a generation of pupils who want reliable information about sexual matters but are often failing to get that from school, parents or health professionals. The new government will be obliged to respond to the Education Select Committee recommendations which were based on months of combing through the evidence. So we look ahead with optimism and ask all our supporters to keep talking about SRE.
Conservative Party Manifesto
- No specific mention of SRE or PSHE
- ‘Will stop children's exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material and age-rating for all music videos.’
Labour Party Manifesto
‘Children develop and learn best when they are secure and happy. We need to help our children develop the creativity, self-awareness and emotional skills they need to get on in life. We will introduce compulsory age-appropriate sex and relationships education. We will encourage all schools to embed character education across the curriculum, working with schools to stop the blight of homophobic bullying.’
Liberal Democrat Party Manifesto
‘Introduce a minimum curriculum entitlement - a slimmed down core national curriculum, which will be taught in all state-funded schools. This will include Personal, Social and Health Education: a 'curriculum for life' including financial literacy, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills, citizenship, and age-appropriate sex and relationship education.’
‘We support age-appropriate sex and relationship education at secondary level, but not for primary school children. There is a world of difference between teaching young children about online safety or telling them no one else is allowed to touch the private parts of their body, which is a sensible way to help prevent and encourage reporting of abuse and going into too much detail. The latter risks sexualising childhood, causing confusion and anxiety, and encouraging experimentation.’
Green Party Manifesto
‘Provide mandatory HIV, sex and relationships education - age appropriate and LGBTIQ inclusive - in all schools from primary level onwards. Make personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) a compulsory part of the school curriculum.’