Sex and Relationship Education

Your Children and Institutionalized Sex Education
By - Hwaa Irfan
Counselor and Freelance Writer

As tensions rise in Spain in reaction to the Council of Europe's imposition of a  curriculum on sex education, in the UK, governorates struggle with the growing problem of teenage pregnancy amidst Jim Knight's (School Minister)  push for compulsory sex and relationship education (SRE) from primary school upward.

The rampant contradictions seem to go unnoticed in a country that has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, with the US taking first place worldwide.

In a UK teenage pregnancy hotspot, Wigan, the government has called for more school-based clinics to set up for the purpose of giving the contraceptive jab. Wigan is one of 21 hotspots. As Christmas 2008 approaches with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service offering free after-morning pills for the season, one can only assume that the underlying messages of "disrespect for life," "single parenthood," and "psychological problems rooted in dysfunctional families" are the European values on which social cohesion is based.

Government notification has also been sent to another teenage pregnancy hotspot, Bristol, to increase the application of long-term contraceptives, which can render a girl to be infertile for up to three months. Those three months might be a weight on the national budget in the short term, but this will lead to more complex problems in the long term.

European Sex Education Policy
Under the Human Rights Act of 1998, state schools have to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights including the right of parents to school their children according to their religion and philosophy, but the imposition of a sex-education curriculum could not be further from the case.

At the Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education in 1979, there was an overall understanding of, and commitment to equality between the sexes with the aim of making that possible for boys and girls throughout the education system.
However, that remit was concerned with the lives of boys and girls outside of the formal education system, which effectively has overidden the family domain as the primary educator for a child's life. The Standing Conference of 1979 focused on many aspects of education, including the following aspects:

An overall policy for ensuring equality of opportunity for all persons in society must begin with active endeavors to promote new attitudes across the whole range of activity in society — in the family, in the school, in the place of work — and to encourage the development of new cultural patterns.

Special attention should be paid to the sex education of both boys and girls … [and to] the integration of migrant families in their new social and cultural environment.
The UN set the agenda globally at the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994. The oft-repeated statement declared that,
Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so.

At the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, on the issue of human trafficking for the purpose of sexploitation as part of the child's sex education, the following was agreed upon in May 2000:

Introduce or step up sex education programs in schools, with particular emphasis on equality between women and men and on respect for human rights and individual dignity, taking into account the rights of the child as well as the rights of his or her parents, legal guardians, and other individuals legally responsible for him or her.
Ensure that school curricula include information on the risks of exploitation, sexual abuse, and trafficking that children and young people could face and ways of protecting themselves; this information should also be circulated to young people outside the education system and to parents.

Provide both boys and girls with an education that avoids gender stereotypes and ensures that all teachers and others involved in education are trained in such a way as to incorporate a gender dimension into their teaching.

Nongovernmental organizations have played a significant role in helping to consolidate a standard education package for European countries. In fact, 90 NGOs have organized into committees that correspond to Council projects on the teaching of 20th century history, education for democratic citizenship, media and education, and culture.

Sex Education and Relationship Education
According to the 2000 edition of Sex and Relationship Education Guidance for UK Teachers and Governors, SRE is,

Lifelong learning about physical, moral, and emotional development. It is about the understanding of the importance of marriage for family life, stable and loving relationships, respect, love, and care. It is also about the teaching of sex, sexuality, and sexual health. It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity — this would be inappropriate teaching.

When the 12-page comic Let's Grow With Nisha and Joe was made available to the public in September 2008, not surprisingly it got mixed reaction. Let's Grow With Nisha and Joe is a sex-education publication by the Family Planning Association (FPA) geared toward 6-year-olds. ‎Margaret Morrissey of the lobby group Parents Outloud had the following words to say:

‎Giving children explicit names for body parts at this age seems clinical.‎ We are feeding them this information when they still should be playing with dolls and toy cars. ‎At that age, children are unlikely to have the ability to ask the right questions. We have got to be so careful that we are educating, not confusing or putting fear into their minds.‎
Norman Wells, director of Family & Youth Concern, said,

Parents already cover such things by word ‎and example in the context of everyday life. Groups like the FPA want to go an awful lot further and be ‎much more explicit.‎The FPA wants to ride roughshod over the views of parents and force all primary schools to provide sex ‎education, whether parents and teachers like it or not.

This probably sums up the problem with institutionalized sex education. In the 2000 edition of Sex and Relationship Education Guidance for UK Teachers and Governors, the importance of marriage and stable relationships was acknowledged, but this has been overridden:

The Government recognizes — as in the Home Office Ministerial Group on the Family consultation document "Supporting Families" — that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage.

If there was a holistic approach to the issue, teachers, education social workers, parents, and school psychologists would have played a significant role by demonstrating which children do poorly at school and why.

For example, some teenagers wanted to have babies regardless of the fact that they were not married, because they wanted the love that they could not get from their natal homes. In other words, their minds were more focused on a need for love, not on their studies. This need, which is their right, will not disappear because of the SRE if the intention is to reduce teenage pregnancies.

The governmental guidelines addressed in the 2000 edition of Sex and Relationship Education Guidance for UK Teachers and Governors have the following expectations from schools:

• "Schools of a particular religious ethos may choose to reflect that in their sex and relationship education policy" (emphasis added).

• "Teachers and all those contributing to sex and relationship education are expected to work within an agreed values framework as described in the school's policy, which must be in line with current legislation."

• "Teachers have a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of their pupils. They are in a particular position of trust. Sexual relationships involving children under 16 are a criminal offence."

• "As with education about puberty, programs should include preparation for menstruation."

• "Trained staff in secondary schools should be able to give young people full information about different types of contraception, including emergency contraception, and their effectiveness …. Trained teachers can also give pupils — individually and as a class — additional information and guidance on where they can obtain confidential advice, counseling, and, where necessary, treatment."

• "There are strongly held views and religious beliefs about abortion and some schools will apply a particular religious ethos through their sex and relationship education policy to the issue, which will enable pupils to consider the moral and personal dilemmas involved. The religious convictions of pupils and their parents should be respected."

• "When abortion is covered within a program, the challenge is to offer young people the opportunity to explore the dilemmas, enable them to know and understand about abortion, and develop the communication skills to discuss it with parents and health professionals."

• "[Schools should be] helping pupils clarify their knowledge of HIV/AIDS and STIs [Sexually Transmitted Infections]; teaching them assertiveness skills for negotiating relationships; and enabling them to become effective users of services that help prevent/treat STIs and HIV."

At primary school level SRE should:
• "Develop confidence in talking, listening, and thinking about feelings and relationships"

• "Are able to name parts of the body and describe how their bodies work"

• "Can protect themselves and ask for help and support"

• "Are prepared for puberty"

At secondary school level, SRE should prepare young people to:

• "Be aware of their sexuality and understand human sexuality"

• "Understand the arguments for delaying sexual activity"

• "Understand the reasons for having protected sex"

• "Understand the consequences of their actions and behave responsibly within sexual and pastoral relationships; have the confidence and self-esteem to value themselves and others"

• "Have sufficient information and skills to protect themselves and, where they have one, their partner from unintended/unwanted conceptions and sexually transmitted infections including HIV"

• "Avoid being exploited or exploiting others"

• "Avoid being pressured into unwanted or unprotected sex"

• "Access confidential sexual health advice, support, and, if necessary, treatment"

• "Know how the law applies to sexual relationships"

Further on the document states:

• "The Department's 'Superhighways Safety' information pack outlines ways that schools can make access to the Internet safe and prevent children from accessing unsuitable material [by] giving staff appropriate training and support."

• "It [the school] should ensure that both boys and girls know about puberty and how a baby is born — as set out in Key Stages 1 and 2 of the National Science Curriculum."
Secondary schools are required to:
• "Teach about relationships, love, and care and the responsibilities of parenthood as well as sex"

• "Focus on boys as much as girls; build self-esteem"

• "Teach the taking on of responsibility and the consequences of one's actions in relation to sexual activity and parenthood"

• "Provide young people with information about different types of contraception, safe sex, and how they can access local sources of further advice and treatment"

• "Use young people as peer educators, e.g. teenage mothers and fathers"

• "Give young people a clear understanding of the arguments for delaying sexual activity and resisting pressure"

• "Link sex and relationship education with issues of peer pressure and other risk-taking behavior, such as drugs, smoking, and alcohol"

• "Ensure young people understand how the law applies to sexual relationships"

• "The Government recognizes that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage …. Teaching in this area needs to be sensitive so as not to stigmatize children on the basis of their home circumstances."

• "Primary and secondary schools should consult parents and pupils both on what is included and on how it is delivered."

• "The Secretary of State for Education and Employment is clear that teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions, and offer support. There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation" (emphasis added).

Parents' Rights

According to the 2000 guidelines for teachers and governors,
• "Sensitive issues should be covered by the school's policy and in consultation with parents."

• "Governors and head teachers should discuss with parents and take on board concerns raised, both on materials, which are offered to schools, and on sensitive material to be used in the classroom."

• "Parents should be consulted about the school's overall policy; primary schools should consult with parents before the transition year about the detailed content of what will be taught. This process should include offering parents the Sex and Relationship Education Guidance and support in talking to their children about sex and relationship education and how to link this with what is being taught in school."

• "The Department's "Superhighways Safety" information pack outlines ways that schools can make access to the Internet safe and prevent children from accessing unsuitable material [by] involving parents and carers."

• "Parents have the right to withdraw their children from all or part of the sex and relationship education provided at school except for those parts included in the statutory National Curriculum …. Schools should make alternative arrangements in such cases. The DfEE [Department for Education and Employment] will offer schools a standard pack of information for parents who withdraw their children from sex and relationship education."

However, the guidelines acknowledge that young people prefer to learn about relationships and intimacy from their parents in the early stages. So, if a parent is not fulfilling this right (even if he or she finds it difficult), then the children who are approaching adolescence will discover this part of who they are elsewhere, and that "elsewhere" might be wrong for them.

The days of relinquishing one's parental rights by amply handing over one's children to the education system are over. If parents do not exercise these rights or participate in their children's school life, they will not be able to maintain their role as the adults whom children turn to, look up to, and listen to. If by exercising those rights one finds that his or her views are being ignored, then there are grounds for complaints.

Children's Rights

According to the 2000 guidelines for teachers and governors,
• "Schools should ensure that pupils are protected from teaching and materials which are inappropriate, having regard to the age and cultural background of the pupils concerned."

• "The Department's "Superhighways Safety" information pack outlines ways that schools can make access to the Internet safe and prevent children from accessing unsuitable material [by] ensuring that pupils' views are listened to."

• "Primary and secondary schools should consult parents and pupils both on what is included and on how it is delivered. For example, for some children it is not culturally appropriate to address particular issues in a mixed group. Consulting pupils and their families will help to establish what is appropriate and acceptable for them."‎

• "Young people, when asked about their experiences of sex education at school, often complain about the focus on the physical aspects of reproduction and the lack of any meaningful discussion about feelings, relationships, and values. Sex and relationship education set within the framework for across the four key stages will significantly redress that balance. It will help young people to respect themselves and others and understand difference. Within the context of talking about relationships, children should be taught about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children."

2008 Review
It was a committee external to the DfEE that held a review on the nation's SRE. Admitting nothing, they had the following notes:
• Stronger focus on relationships in SRE is needed.

• An explicit framework of values — which reflect diversity, mutual respect, gender equalities, and responsibilities — is needed. Not enough account is taken of faith, ethnicity, disability, and sexuality.

• The SRE should be led by parents and then supported by high-quality advice and information from various sources.

• Improved teacher training is needed.

• Informing parents at each new stage and establishing a stronger dialogue between home and school are needed.

• Expertise from health professionals and community workers is needed.

• SRE should be made statutory at key stages 1–4.

• More guidance and support for schools are needed.

• Changing the name of SRE, with less emphasis on sex, should be considered.

This report stated that "young people are growing up in an increasingly sexualized society." But, does that mean we should go with the flow or stem the tide? What if that tide includes increased incidences of pedophilia, sexual violence, human trafficking, and incest? There is no doubt that sex education is needed, but maybe the emphasis needs to be on educating the parents so that they can fulfill what is after all a fundamental part of their God-given role!

Bassetlaw. "Sexual Health." Accessed 7 Dec. 2008.

Bean, Richard. "Town Named as Teen Pregnancy Hot Spot." Wigan Today. 21 Nov. 2008. Accessed 20 Dec. 2008.

"Bristol Teens to Get Contraceptive Injection." Bristol.co.uk. Accessed 4 Dec. 2008.

"British Muslims and Education." Open Society Institute. Accessed 12 Dec. 2008. Clark, L. "Schools Introduce a Sex Guide for Your Six Year Olds." Accessed 12 Dec. 2008.

Council of Europe. Committee of Ministers. Recommendation #R (2000) 11 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation. Accessed 4 Dec. 2008.

"Sex and Relationship Education Guidance." TeacherNet.gov.uk. Accessed 20 Dec. 2008.

"Review of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in Schools: A report by the External Steering Group." TeacherNet.gov.uk. Accessed 20 Dec. 2008.



"Groupings Council of Europe INGO." International Federation of University Women. Accessed 20 Dec. 2008.


European United Left/Nordic Green Left. "Reproductive Health and Sexual Education." Accessed 20 Dec. 2008. 

Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education. "Statement on Education and Equality of Opportunity for Girls and Women." COE Int'l. Accessed 4 Dec. 2008.

Staff Copy. "Tackling Teenage Pregnancy Rates." Hebden Bridge Times. Accessed 4 Dec. 2008.



SRE & Parents Leaflet

Reproductive Health and Sexual Education


Hwaa Irfan is a professional science journalist

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