by John Hayward
The primary school at which I am a parent governor is currently revising the materials it uses for sex and relationships education, in recognition that the 1970s BBC videos that it had been using in recent years are very outdated. The school is likely to use the excellent SRE unit from the International Primary Curriculum, which it adopted a couple of years ago. As well as helping pupils explore biological facts such as 'the ways in which humans and other animals reproduce,' it also encourages pupils to 'understand their own responsibilities in the groups to which they belong' and 'the responsibilities of others in those groups and in the wider community.'
The school is still left, however, with the question of what video resources to use. Earlier this month, the Christian Institute published a 32-page guide entitled Too much, too young: Exposing primary school sex education materials, raising concerns over resources such as The Primary School Sex And Relationships Education Pack by HIT UK, which includes material aimed at children aged five to 11 about different sexual positions and prostitution. Unfortunately, as is sadly all too common, the guide only offered a negative message and missed the chance to advise parents, teachers and governors on what good alternative resources exist.
For schools not following the IPC, one teaching pack that I know is used by at least one other local church school is called Rollercoaster. Produced by the Sheffield Centre for HIV and Sexual Health in 2001, this is 'designed to explain some of the basic physical and biological changes of puberty for Years 5-8 (aged 9-13 years) in an interesting and fun way, in addition to enabling facilitators to explore some of the emotional aspects and changes that may accompany puberty.'
On a related note, one of the tabloids yesterday alerted its readers to 'Fury at equality watchdog after it calls for teachers to ask 11-year-olds if they are gay' – arguably a slightly hysterical reaction to a report for the Equality and Human Right Commission, Researching and monitoring adolescence and sexual orientation: Asking the right questions, at the right time. In fact the report warned of the ethical dilemmas involved in asking any such questions and recommended that 'All proposals to research, evaluate or monitor sexual orientation in adolescence should seek expert advice and be submitted to an internal or external ethics review committee.'
The EHRC report also notes that although 'by age 12 young people are dealing with emerging sexual feelings and attractions,' 'most young people are identifying their sexual orientation in later adolescence.' It further acknowledges that 'There is a dearth of evidence on the ways in which sexual orientation may disadvantage young people' and insists 'it is critical to identify the important role of sexual orientation as a predictor of health, social and economic outcomes.' These are important admissions that behaviour has consequences – or, to quote the IPC curriculum, 'the behaviour of individuals has an effect on the lives of others,' and 'the way in which people fulfil their responsibilities affects the lives of others.'
In truth, the law already ensures that 'when sex education is given to registered pupils at maintained schools -- they learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children' and that 'it is given in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life' (Education Act 1996). Additionally, the current statutory guidance says pupils should 'learn the reasons for delaying sexual activity and the benefits to be gained from such delay' and warns against the use of 'inappropriate images' and 'explicit material not directly related to explanation' (DfEE 0116/2000). What's more, schools are also bound always to 'work in partnership with parents, consulting them regularly on the content of sex and relationship education programmes.'
Which brings us back to the question I started with: What materials and videos do the schools you are connected with (for instance as a parent, grandparent, governor, volunteer or staff) use in their sex and relationships education and what do you think of them? Can anyone recommend any good resources for ethically-minded schools?