RSE lessons – Let’s stop the scaremongering
Concerns over lesson content are prompting calls for a review of the RSE curriculum – but such worries are at odds with reality, says Laura Coryton
Controversies surrounding the new relationships, sex and education curriculum have dominated the news cycle of late.
Falsehoods regarding the modernised curriculum have helped to fuel calls for it to be reviewed – a step which would amount to a rolling back of equalities in this country. Here’s how.
Many of these falsehoods can be found in a report into the RSE taught by schools commissioned by Miriam Cates MP and produced by her organisation, the New Social Covenant Unit. The document makes a number of generalised and inaccurate assertions – including that age-inappropriate and extreme issues are being taught to young learners everywhere, causing harm to their wellbeing.
In reality, the opposite is true.
Cates cites blogs that include what she deems as ‘inappropriate content’ to back up her claims. However, these largely come from organisations that provide sexual wellbeing information for adults, and don’t work with school students.
Organisations geared towards working with schools – such as Sex Ed Matters, which I serve as director, and abides by guidance set by the PSHE Association – barely warrant any mention in the report.
Rather than listen to an MP, I suggest that we listen to students. A 2021 Ofsted review unearthed details of sexual harassment and abuse being effectively ‘normalised’ on school grounds, based on extensive interviews with young people.
A survey subsequently conducted by the Sex Education Forum found that many students in fact wanted more RSE support, as they believed this would keep them safe, better informed and provide a space for them in which they could raise concerns and develop their understanding.
Indeed, countless studies have shown how improving RSE provision has reduced rates of sexual violence, empowered students and made young people safer.
Yet despite this, the falsehoods persist, sparking calls for important topics like sexuality and body autonomy to be taken out of the curriculum altogether, for fear that such teaching ‘promotes a left wing agenda’ – rhetoric with echoes of headlines published shortly before the imposition of Section 28, which went on to devastate many lives.
We can already see history repeating itself in the US. Florida and Texas have introduced variants of a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, prohibiting the teaching of gender and sexuality in all schools across both states.
We deserve better. We must act now, lest such damaging laws resurface and cause similar forms of harm here.
Laura Coryton is the director of Sex Ed Matters; for more information, visit sexedmatters.co.uk or follow @sexedmattersuk