Labour is making a push for more comprehensive sex education, including the discussion of online pornography, to become a mandatory online course for secondary school students.
Labour MP Louise Haigh stated that changes needed to occur within the sex education syllabus in order to make room for lessons concerning cyber bullying as well as the viewing of “harmful” online images. She went on to speak out against the Tories for their “dereliction of duty” when it comes to children and to offer her support for a code of conduct that would allow social media providers to prevent abuse from occurring online, writes Martha Gill for The Huffington Post.
In her online blog, Haigh supported a “robust sex and relationship education” for children in the country, adding that such an education should include “discussions about online pornography, so that they can question what they see online in a safe environment.”
She went on to say that the Government’s Digital Economy Bill had missed the mark by not discussing either online abuse or online education, suggesting that ministers must have avoided the issue or not understood it enough to address it.
“Astonishingly, the Government have so far refused to even consider statutory online sexual education and the Government’s Keeping Children Safe strategy recently dedicated only a pitiful three paragraphs to the online world”, she said.
“We want to see statutory online education extend beyond simply sex education, to the entire online world. So children – who already are digital natives – can make safe, informed decisions.”
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Justine Greening noted the possibility of making sex education in the United Kingdom mandatory for all secondary school students. Her predecessors, Nicky Morgan and Michael Gove, both ruled against such a policy.
Greening stated that the idea was an important one for her that she planned to address soon, going on to say that the Government had a “real opportunity” to make changes to improve sex education teaching. She added that it was just as necessary to improve the quality of the teaching as it is to make the course mandatory, reports Ben Riley-Smith for The Telegraph.
Speaking for Labour, Yvette Cooper has spoken to the Government multiple times to promote the idea that sex and relationships education should begin at a much earlier age, including children for as young as seven years old. She has argued that the digital age has brought with it the ability for children to view violent, abusive, and sexual images with only a few clicks of the mouse, adding that teachers are not currently equipped with enough tools to help children understand major issues such as sexting or cyber bullying.
Sex education is currently only required for students of maintained secondary schools, but is not so for academies and free schools, which account for close to two-thirds of all secondary schools in the country.
Greening said she had been informed by MPs that current research found the number of hours spent teaching sex education had decreased in the last four years by 33%.
At the same time, research completed in ten countries, including the UK, found students calling sex education irrelevant, adding that because it does not correlate to actual experiences, many students “tune out” the lessons. Students reportedly referred to the information given in these classes to be “moralistic, negative, and too centered on science,” adding that what they need is information and help pertaining to their actual feelings and situations they deal with on a daily basis.
“It is clear from our findings that SRE [sex and relationship education] provision in schools frequently fails to meet the needs of young people,” said study lead Dr. Pandora Pound of the school of social and community medicine at Bristol University. “Schools seem to have difficulty accepting [that] some people are sexually active, which leads to SRE that is out of touch with many young people’s lives.”
Students suggested a number of improvements for these courses, including beginning them at a younger age, introducing “peer counselors,” and the addition of LGBTQ issues to the curriculum.