There is debate in policy circles about whether Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) should be renamed Brook has decided to describe this curriculum subject as relationships and sex education. However we believe that the real issue is making sure that young people receive their entitlement to this learning, whatever it is called, and the decision does not change Brook’s values and beliefs about young people’s sexual experiences and their right to high quality education about sex, relationships, emotions and sexuality.
The delivery of good quality relationships and sex education is crucial to realising Brook’s goal of achieving a Sex:Positive society which is open and honest about sex and relationships, celebrates sexuality and embraces individuality.
Brook believes that relationships and sex education should be a statutory entitlement for all children and young people within a broader personal, health and social wellbeing curriculum. Relationships and sex education should be delivered within a wider context so that sex and relationships are linked to other lifestyle issues such as alcohol and drugs.
We believe that all children and young people must get the information and develop the skills they need to form healthy and positive sexual relationships. Their right to education, information and health services is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Brook believes that relationships and sex education should start early in childhood so that children and young people learn to talk about feelings and relationships, and are prepared for puberty before it happens.
Quality relationships and sex education is an entitlement for all children, young people and adults; it should be accurate and factual; it should be inclusive in terms of gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, culture, age, religion or belief or other life-experience, particularly HIV status and pregnancy.(1)
Brook believes that allowing parents to withdraw children and young people from sex education lessons undermines the right of every child to receive education about relationships and sex and is incompatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Brook believes that to be effective relationships and sex education must be relevant and appropriate to the lives of children and young people, regardless of their family background or sexuality. The positive qualities of relationships, such as trust, respect and commitment, should be stressed rather than the promotion of one form of relationship or sexual orientation.
Children and young people need to be well informed about the risks of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy so that when they choose to become sexually active they can do so safely.
We live in an increasingly sexualised society with a negative culture around sex and young people. We must have high expectations of children and young people so that they can have high expectations for themselves and the relationships and sex they choose. Relationships and sex education must set out our hopes for children and young people to help them develop confidently with a positive attitude to sex and sexuality.
Brook is a founding and active member of the Sex Education Forum the national authority on sex and relationships education (www.ncb.org.uk/sef).
All schools will deliver relationships and sex education in the context of their values framework. Regardless of what this is they should all ensure that children and young people know and understand the legal perspective, the health perspective and religious and secular perspectives. By including all these elements schools will be providing a strong educational entitlement.
Relationships and sex education should be age-appropriate and start by teaching children and young people about friendships, feelings and boundaries, names of the body parts and preparing them for puberty. In secondary school it teaches children and young people about relationships, as well as the biological aspects of sex, and the links with alcohol, risk-taking and personal safety.
Any curriculum should not just focus on information-giving but should help children and young people to develop the skills to act on the information they have been given and help them clarify their values and attitudes. Children and young people need to be specifically helped to develop the ability to recognise and resist pressure so that they can delay intercourse until they are ready for it; to develop healthy relationships; and to negotiate and practise safer sex.
Good, comprehensive relationships and sex education which starts before the onset of sexual activity does not make children and young people more likely to have sex. In fact it helps them to delay starting sex and makes them more likely to use contraception when they do.(2)
Children and young people repeatedly tell researchers that they believe the sex education they receive is too little, too late and too biological and they often don’t know where to go for advice. They report too little discussion of social and emotional issues and that what little information they are given about sexually transmitted infections is not placed in the context of young people's lives.
A survey of almost 22,000 children and young people by the UK Youth Parliament(3) found that 40% of respondents described their SRE as either poor or very poor and a further 33% thought it was average. 43% of respondents said they had not been taught about personal relationships at school. Similar results were found by a 2011 Brook survey(4) of over 2000 young people in which 47% of secondary school pupils said their school’s Sex and Relationships Education did not meet their needs.
What young people want to learn about in relationships and sex education are issues like body confidence, how to avoid peer pressure to have sex, love and how to behave in a relationships and sexual attraction.(5)
The vast majority of parents are in favour of sex education in schools as this supports what many of them are already doing at home. A 2006 survey found that 83% think that schools should teach young people about the emotional aspects of sex and relationships, as well as the biological facts, and 78% of parents think that schools should be required to provide comprehensive sex and relationships education as part of the national curriculum.(6)
Children and young people who learn about sex mainly from school are less likely to become sexually active underage than those whose family and friends are their main source of information.(7) The second National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles in 2001 found for the first time that young people age 16-19 reported school based lessons as their main source of information about sex.(8) However, by 2011 Brook’s survey(9) found that only 13% of young people said school was their main source of information about sex and only 6% said it was their main source of information about relationships compared to 46% and 56% respectively that cited their peer group as their main source of information.
Publication date: November 2011