[T]oday the Government launched a public consultation on what relationships and sex education should look like in England’s schools. While that might not be the first thing on your Christmas list, it’s been hanging around at the top of ours for a while, and is a vitally important step forward for all young people.
So why is it something we should all care about? Earlier this year, the Government committed to making age-appropriate relationships and sex education compulsory in all of England’s schools in 2019.
Currently, only certain secondary schools are required to teach this subject, and the guidance for teachers has sat untouched since 2000. To say that plenty has changed in those 17 years would be an understatement. Back then, Bob the Builder was Christmas number one, Facebook was just a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, and Section 28 – the law which banned the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality – was still in force.
It was a different world – and the guidance reads that way. It makes little mention of online safety, and no mention at all of LGBT young people and their needs. We have, however, made progress. At primary level we work with hundreds of schools to help them celebrate difference. This includes talking about different families, including LGBT parents and relatives.
Teaching about the diversity that exists in the world means that children from all families feel included and helps all young people understand that LGBT people are part of everyday life. Lots of schools, including faith schools, have been doing this work for years. Different families, same love. Simple.
At secondary level, a growing number of schools are meeting the needs of their LGBT pupils. But Stonewall’s research shows that these schools are in the minority: just one in six LGBT young people have been taught about healthy same-sex relationships, and many teachers still aren’t sure whether they are allowed to talk about LGBT issues in the classroom.
Too many LGBT pupils still tell us that relationships and sex education simply doesn’t include them. As LGBT young people are left unequipped to make safe, informed decisions, most go online to find information instead. It will come as no surprise that information online can be unreliable, and sometimes unsafe.
In schools that teach about LGBT issues, LGBT young people are more likely to feel welcomed, included and accepted. When young people see themselves reflected in what they learn, it doesn’t just equip them to make safe, informed decisions, it helps them feel like they belong and that who they are isn’t wrong or defective. Providing all young people with inclusive relationships and sex education as part of PSHE is a key way to do this.
Every young person needs to feel accepted, understood and included. The Government has recognised that, and is clear that future relationships and sex education will be LGBT-inclusive. Now is our chance to have a say on what that should look like. Now is our chance to give all young people the information and support they need to be safe, happy and healthy, now and in the future.
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