Teaching empathy for Refugees- a lesson plan

PSHE and Citizenship teachers may currently struggling how to address the current refugee crisis in lessons. I, like so many others have been deeply affected by the situation at the moment and the devastating loss of life at sea, and I am desperate to help in any way I know how. So I wanted to share this lesson plan as I think it is one of the most incredible exercises for building empathy with refugees there is.    I used to work in a school where so many students (interestingly who were mostly 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants themselves) were constantly complaining about “bloody immigrants” and I found this lesson really helped them “get it” and develop their empathy and understanding skills as a result. But bewarned it is a TOUGH lesson to deliver and recieve. It is crucial you explain to students beforehand (and possibly parents/wider school community if required) that this lesson maybe upsetting and seek their consent to participate, and don’t force any student to paticipate if they don’t want too. You need to know your class very well before you deliver it and be mindful of any students in your class who may have had experiences such as the lesson situation creates or who have been bereaved.  If you see students getting upset do go an support them individually and make sure you do proper debriefs and icebreakers at the end of the session to break the mood. If possible it is very useful to have one or two other adults present to escort any student who needs to leave the room and make sure you have tissues at the ready. Have to admit I once made 17 students in a single lesson cry by doing this lesson (there was an element of group hysteria too!) but all of them were properly supported and debriefed and many still mentioned the lesson years later as a lesson they would never forget.

REMEMBER This exercise is extremely powerful and has potential to be very upsetting. 

 Aim: To explore how it might feel to be a refugee.

Ask the class to work alone and individually, all they need is paper and a pen.
Tell the class:

“When you get home from school today there is a note on the kitchen table saying you must leave in half an hour.

You do not know where you are going, but you know it may be a long journey.

You do not know whether you will return or how long you will be away.

You can only take a small rucksack.

You need to decide on 10 items to take with you. They can be either personal or useful, your choice, but no pets.”


Play gentle music playing (ideally a slow sad instrumental tune as can help create a serious sombre mood- Ludovico Einaudi is great for this) and allow students 5 mins to write down 10 items

  1. Continue scenario.

“Also on the kitchen table are 4 tickets. Decide and write down which other 3 people will come with you.

Music playing – 3 mins for writing down who is coming

  1. Continue scenario.

“You are now told that you need to share the rucksack. It is not possible to take all 10 items. You can only take 3 items. You need to cross off 7 items from your list.”


Music playing – 3 mins for crossing off items. Students often really struggle with this bit “but I need my ipad and my passport!? What about food!?”


  1. Drama Activity – Teacher in role (playing the role of a refugee possibly called Meena)

Props : shawl or covering to change appearance whilst in role and chair (and teacher preparation as to the backstory to the role and situation for refugees and asylum seekers.

After a short introduction to the character, the children are allowed to ask questions to find out more about Meena.

Remind students of the need to be sensitive. Not call out, but wait for Meena to acknowledge before asking question.

(not possible to be teacher while in role so important to remind students in advance of your ground rules, the students will respond really well to this activity if you prepare well and take your role seriously, you can get some really fabulous genuine questions. )

Brief introduction about herself by MEENA, a refugee.

Possibly backstory- Previously a nurse in her home country, She is currently living in a refugee camp in Calais with her 2 young children. Her husband was shot and she had to flee for her life. She has other relatives and friends still in her home country, but apart from her children she is alone here. She has been at the camp for a couple of months. She relies on charities for food and clothing. She is hoping to come to England where she has a cousin.

10 mins question and answer time- The students will often ask really fantastic questions, sometimes they can try and ask insensitive or “testing” questions but a response of “I find that question too sad or difficult to answer” usually brings them back to taking the role play seriously again.

When the questions have dried up the teacher needs to exit the room for a moment to remove the “prop” and re-enter the room as the class teacher.

Continue scenario.

“There is bad news. It is not true that there are 4 tickets. There are only 3. You need to leave someone behind, you need to choose who cannot come and write them a letter saying goodbye, explaining why they cannot come and expressing how you feel etc.”

Continue to play the music allowing 5 to 10 mins to write letter in silence.  At this point it is important to be vigilant for students getting upset as some will. Understandably they will, a supportive quiet word about how this isn’t a real activity for them (although is reflecting a real situation going on in the world) and permitting them to stop if they feel they need too is important.

Sharing activity.

Stop music. Explain next activity as follows:

Students close eyes (music very quietly)

Teacher to tap one child on shoulder.

Child reads out their letter (or not if they prefer). May need to encourage, but important not to force.

Sometimes two reading concurrently.

Again some students may get upset at hearing some of the letters being read out, so it is important at the end of the activity to completely change the mood of the session before going into a debrief.  Putting on some silly music and striking poses or playing simon says can help break the mood. Very important to bring the session back to the present, the here and now where the students are safe and those situations are not real.

Allow time for a plenary session to discuss issues around asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants and the current refugee crisis and how the lesson has affected them. Also try to make sure you allow 5 mins to relax and talk amongst themselves before moving on to next session to help breakdown the heightened emotions of the session before their next class.

Additional ideas:

Explore this website which shows the contents of refugees bags and shares some of their story.

Introduce some newspaper items and headlines about people coming to the UK to see how you feel and what you think in the light of the drama experience.

Useful to research some facts re: numbers, legal system e.g benefits and right to work, health provision, time taken to process applications, routes into UK, and so on. (either beforehand for teacher to be informed or as homework activity for class).


N.B. This lesson is adapted from one delivered by Liz Peadon who worked for Traveller Education Support Service in Cambridgeshire in 2005. I am no longer in touch with her and not sure of the exact origins of the lesson but it remains one of my most powerful lessons to teach to this day and I think one worth sharing.

Explaining Party Politics to a five year old using sweets.

To explain her politics to her kids, a friend of mine used the analogy- “Tories are like the big kids with all the sweets and they won’t share any with the little kids.”

I thought this pretty much summed it up, and to take it some steps further, since the Tories are now in:

If you slip on a sweet wrapper and break your ankle there may not be a healthcare system to help you unless you have enough pocket money to pay for your treatment.  If your broken ankle also means you can no longer do chores or your paper round there won’t be a welfare system to support you, you will be on your own, this may mean relying on foodbanks or worse. Food parcels don’t tend to have sweets for kids.

Labour really do want to share the sweets out fairly, but don’t always seem brilliant at counting and sometimes they don’t get shared out well enough so some of the little kids miss out.  Sometimes they seem to want more controls on the lovely sweets from abroad which is a real shame (seriously this could make Haribo including Maom’s under threat and no kid wants that!)

Lib Dems will cosy up to whoever has the most sweets and sacrifice many of their values and principles for the sugar rush and being with the big kids. Most people now don’t like the Lib Dems because of this kind of behaviour.

UKIP will only eat bullseyes, humbugs and lemon sherbets and other traditionally british sweets. They are against all foreign sweets (probably especially Haribo because they are German) and they probably aren’t very good at sharing.

Obviously Greens don’t actually eat sweets, they eat organic raisins but are more than happy to share them.

Amongst the smaller parties- the Scottish National party obviously they mostly prefer Highland Toffee and so long as all the Scottish kids want to eat the Highland toffee, then all will be shared, erm, with the Scottish Kids, not sure about the other kids, probably depends if they like you or not.

Plaid Cyrmu, these kids are actually partial to a bit of Welsh cake (Yum!), but sadly most non-Welsh kids wouldn’t recognise a Welsh cake if it hit them in the face, so the little kids are less keen on sharing with them as they don’t offer the same yummy sweets as the big kids. Likewise DUP- mostly they only ever have (Irish Whiskey) fudge, alright in small doses but way to sickly if you have too much.

British National Party basically was just a single horrible kid who ate all the sweets and  came to a sticky end much like Augustus Gloop.

FUKP- This kid doesn’t eat sweets but when you are old enough he will serve you a lager or fruit based drink for the lady.

Have I missed any out?

So there you go. Politics explained easily so a 5 year old can understand! Obviously this is a parents biased comedy effort and not a serious suggestion for a primary citizenship lesson!

So how do you explain party politics to five year olds?

Children as young as four can learn about serious mental illness including schizophrenia and psychosis.


A new book launched last month aims to explain serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia to children as young as four.  The story Pretend Friends, written by Alice Hoyle, illustrated by Lauren Reis,  and published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, uses the analogy of imaginary friends to explore the differences between childhood imaginary companions, and adults who hear voices or have other hallucinations or delusions as a result of mental illness. The author is donating all royalties to the charity Rethink Mental Illness.

One reader, Joe Hayman CEO of the PSHE association, stated “One of the most important books I’ve read in some time” and described the story as a ” must-read – brilliantly-presented, touching, poignant, insightful and very important”. Another reader with lived experience of schizophrenia, Katy Gray said ” I love the idea of introducing young children to the concept of severe mental illnesses, to help them learn not to be afraid of adults living with one. Hopefully if children can learn about mental health at a young age, they will grow up into understanding adults, less likely to have stigmatising beliefs about mental illness.”

Some parents might be concerned that children don’t need to learn about serious mental illness, in case it upsets or scares them, but as the author points out “One in hundred people will experience schizophrenia or psychosis, therefore there are children in families who will have friends or relatives living with such conditions, who are desperately searching for a tool to help them facillitate the conversation with their children. In a world where mental health stigma is one of the biggest barriers to seeking help and recovery, then it is important to educate the younger generation about mental illness and mental health stigma so that they grow up into supportive accepting adults.”

She went on to state “The story has been very carefully written to be a gentle non-scary introduction to serious mental illness. The main character Little Bea finds out about how we can support adults living with mental illnesses in their recovery, but it is also made clear that she is not expected to try and make things better. This was very important so that a child reading would not feel worried or upset or that they needed to take on caring responsibilities if they found out someone close to their family was hearing voices. That job is for adults not children.”

Nigel Campbell, Associate Director of Communications for Rethink Mental Illness, said: “We’re delighted to have linked up with Alice for the launch of Pretend Friends, and we’re very grateful for her generosity in donating the royalties to Rethink Mental Illness.

“Mental illness affects every family in some way, but it can be difficult for parents to know how to talk about it with their children. There is still a great deal of stigma and misunderstanding around conditions like schizophrenia and psychosis, which makes them even harder to discuss.

“The book is a really imaginative and fun resource, which will help children understand what life is like for people who are experiencing symptoms like hearing voices, or seeing things that aren’t there. As they get older, hopefully it will help children become more aware and accepting of others who are affected by mental illness.”

The story is available now from JKPFoyle’s or Amazon or in all other good bookshops with all royalties going towards Rethink Mental Illness.  Let us know what you think about using story books to talk about mental illness with children in the comments below.

Language and mental health stigma #antibullyingweek

Do you ever challenge people for using language that propagates mental health stigma? Or do you often use it yourself without thinking about it, because no-one has ever challenged you?

I’m talking about words like “crazy, nuts, pyscho, nutjob, bonkers, schizo” etc etc. I have to hold my hand up and say I have been guilty of using such terms in the past and probably still do use some of the words on occasion when I don’t catch myself, because some of these words are so common and we don’t really relate them to any effect on mental health stigma, but as this study suggest such language creates negative attitudes towards mental illness and then may reduce liklihood of people seeking help if they need it.

So this week for Anti-Bullying week I am asking you to think about the language you use and if you are a teacher in a classroom, do think about challenging your students to think about the language they use and the effects it can have. Whether the words are used perjoratively or not, I think it is worth being mindful of the potential effects of the words on bystanders.  That isn’t to say I want to see any of these words banned  (I secretly rather like the adjective “bonkers” when used affectionately!) but to encourage a critical and reflective approach to the power of language.

Just to highlight how tricky this can be some might argue this post is a classic example of:

“Political correctness gorn mad!”


But unpicking that statement is in itself a challenge of language. What do we mean by “gone mad”? Is that statement stigmatising to people with mental health issues? Is ‘political correctness’ such a bad thing?.

I don’t have the answers but what I am asking you to do is to be mindful of the langauge you use even if you think it doesn’t matter it probably does, and if you are a PSHE teacher to think seriously about increasing your lessons on mental health education to support young people to support themselves and each other.


P.S As an aside for those of you that don’t know- I have written a book for children explaining aspects of serious mental illness (psychosis). It’s called Pretend Friends and it’s out in February.  So expect many more posts on mental health in coming months. But don’t worry I am not moving away from my core work of relationships and sex education, after all healthy relationships helps healthy minds (and vice versa)!




It’s time to talk about gendered harassment


“Stop acting like a girl”, “You look like a fag”, “You are such a slut”, “Genderbender”


Taunts like these can often be heard in schools across the land, where homophobic, transphobic, bi-phobic, sexist and sexual commentary is often seen as the norm. At the core of each of these comments is a common root: Gendered Harrassment.

What is gendered harassment?

Gendered harassment is defined as any behaviour, verbal, physical, or psychological, that polices the boundaries of traditional heterosexual gender norms and includes (hetero)sexual harassment, homophobic harassment, and harassment for gender non-conformity.” (Meyer, 2008)

In other words where gendered stereotypes prevail about what males and females should traditionally look and act like then gendered harassment will exist.  Anyone and everyone will be affected by gendered harassment , it is a way of society policing and enforcing its idea of “normal”.

Schools are starting to understand they need to address homophobia, thanks to high profile media campaigns, support and training, which is great but they still lack understanding about how to address sexual, sexist or transphobic bullying, where such behaviours are sometimes perceived as normal “gendered banter” from children and young people.

By reframing the discussion in terms of gendered harassment, this recognises that gender is at the core of all of these different types of bullying and harassment, then schools can get to the crux of the issue and start to address three distinct problematic issues in schools ‘for the price of one‘!

Obviously care will need to be taken not to lose specific nuanced issues within each type of bullying/harrassment.  However by considering these things under the umbrella of  gendered harassment, it gives opportunity to collectively challenge the common issues. This will save time and energy for schools and can transform school environments for male, female, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight students. i.e. such approaches will benefit absolutely everyone (What’s not to like!?).

So it’s Anti-Bullying Week and this week I do hope schools and young people will start to consider critically thinking about approaches to gendered harrassment rather than just sticking up a few “Some people are gay, get over it!” posters and thinking that this is sufficient. It really really isn’t.

For more help with understanding gendered harrassment in your school please contact me alice.hoyle@rsehub.org.uk or visit The RSE Hub



BREAKING NEWS: Guidance does NOT say sex at 13 is okay.

The Education Select Committee met yesterday and appeared to get a little bit fixated on the Brook Sexual Behaviours traffic light tool. As a result subsequent reporting in the Telegraph the BBC, The Daily Mail, Metro and the Mirror are all now completely miscontruing the excellent Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic lights tool as a form of teaching guidance for SRE (it’s not guidance for teaching sex ed, it’s a safeguarding tool).

A collation of the miseleading headlines is as follows:

Teachers told: sex at 13 ‘is normal part of growing up’

Sex ‘normal at 13’ suggestion raises concerns

Sex between 13-year-olds is NORMAL, says controversial ‘traffic light tool’ sent to schools to teach about relationships (N.B this one is complete rubbish- the tool has never been sent into schools to teach about relationhships)

School kids having sex at 13 is ‘normal’ says controversial advice given by charity

Campaigners claim schools are teaching pupils that 13 is a normal age for sex

I am really cross and disappointed about this. Some of the (totally rubbish and written in a hurry churnalism) articles imply that the Traffic Light tool is the same as the non-statutory supplementary guidance for SRE (produced because the current statutory guidance from DfE was produced in 2000 and is now out dated). Brook have written an excellent response statement to the article here which clarifies things further and Ally Fogg at the Guardian has written an excellent piece on this issue here.  I also wanted to add a post from my perspective of a practitioner of Sex Education, because when I’m teaching SRE in schools, I also automatically have an additional responsibility for child protection.

TO CLARIFY (if I was an Education Editor of a widely read national newspaper my refuting headline would be!) :


The traffic light tool actually a safeguarding tool for practitioners (not necessarily SRE teachers but maybe youth workers, teachers, pastoral leads, child protection officers etc.) to assist in identifying whether a sexual behaviour is ‘normal’ for an age group or a ’cause for concern’. The age ranges are 0-5, 5-9, 9-13 and 13-17 deliberately because there are overlaps.  It has not been reported (because that destroys the anti-sex ed narrative) that in the 9-13 age range a red behaviour (ie. one that is a serious safeguarding concern) is:

And in the 13-17 age range one of the green behaviours (ie. one that is not usually a cause for concern unless there are other factors going on) is:

Obviously the tool is an aid to professional judgement but does not replace it.  We know there maybe 13 year olds having their ‘first snogs or fumbles’, and usually this is in line with normal development. However a disclosure of a sexually active 13 year old (ie. having penetrative sex) would, in most settings, trigger a referral to the child protection lead and probably further support/intervention being put into place to support the young person. We have mandatory reporting for under 13’s because under 13’s are not able to legally consent to sex but for 13-15year olds the law is not intended to prosecute mutually agreed teenage sexual activity between two young people of a similar age, unless it involves abuse or exploitation.  Therefore the tool is entirely reasonable (and not “illegal” at all as suggested by Sarah Carter from the Family Education Trust).

Yes, we all know that sex under the age of 16 is illegal, but we also know that almost 1/3 of our young people are having sex under the age of 16 (remember that most of these will be ~15, and most people have lost their virginity by 19. So erm it’s a no brainer that the teen years are vital for high quality accurate age appropriate sex education! D’uh!)Talking about this statistic doesn’t mean any practitioner of sex ed is encouraging or condoning underage sex (I regularly use it as a social norming approach- when I ask my classes what percetage of teens have sex under the age of 16 they all respond with “90-100%” and are suprised to find out it is far lower!). Teachers of sex education are not on some kind of crusade to encourage underage sex (urgh at the thought!) but we recognise our duty is to support young people and meet their needs, where they are at, and signpost where to get further help and support.

Yes, the Brook Traffic Light Tool does also mention in the 13-17 age range:

  • consenting oral and/or penetrative sex with others of the same or opposite gender who are of similar age and developmental ability

which the media has seized upon.  But as a professional interpreting this in practice, I would be looking very closely at the 9-13 behaviours and the 13-17 behaviours and in my experience if a sexually active 13 year old presented to me, then often they are not in consensual situations, or have chaotic home lives, and therefore more support and intervention is needed to support that young person. (Particularly if there needs to be a (potentially criminal) investigation into the often older partner).

(As an aside, I have actually never had consensual penetrative sexual activity disclosed to me in 13 year olds, but once had to refer on two horrific cases of 13 year olds who had been gang raped, one of whom thought it was some kind of ‘rite of passage’ and and minimised it as ‘normal thing’ to happen in her peers which absolutely broke my heart. This is also why I am so angry about this misreporting- the Brook Traffic LightsTool is invaluable in suppporting professionals to protect young people so how dare they twist it like this, to score political points!?)

Like most practitioners I would use the SRE guidance documents (both statutory and non-statutory) and my school policy to ensure my teaching was in line with all of these.  If I had a disclosure or something happened that concerned me in a lesson (likely discussion of an amber or red behaviour) –  then I would refer it to my child protection lead in the school who would also be hopefully using the traffic light tool to determine the level of intervention needed.  I am clear on this, many teachers of PSHE are clear on this, but some aren’t, and they won’t be helped by misguided and innacurate reporting on it from the press.

It’s such a shame that such inaccurate reporting about sex education works to damage the reputation of this really important subject and may make some teachers reluctant or fearful about teaching it.  I just hope the Education Select Committee who are currently hearing evidence about PSHE will be able to see through this poor sensationalist reporting (and selective presentation of evidence and innacurate statements about “legality” from the Family Education Trust to the committee) to understand that the difference between guidance documents supporting the teaching of SRE, and guidance documents supporting the safeguarding of children and young people. Ultimately the the safety and healthy sexual development of young people depends on us getting this right. So maybe just maybe the reporters could try and get this right too?





The pill, mental health and evidence base versus lived experience. Yes it’s a feminist issue.

So @DrAliceRoberts wrote this article about her experiences of the Pill and mental health in the Guardian, and @cbpolis  did a response on her blog and twitter exploded into a giant debate about evidence based medicine and rather unfairly people told Dr Alice off for writing the article due to her position as a public engagement officer for science. Erm – well given the fantastic discussion she has stimulated I think she is doing a wonderful job!!!

I got very cross about these discussions so here is my contribution based on my experiences as a scientist turned social scientist with a passionate interest in sexual health education and supporting young people and adults to make the best contraceptive choices available to them and that those decisions are informed by facts not opinion.  For information my masters degree was in Evidence based practice (in education) and challenging homophobia (and I looked at gender for a lot of it as well). So I like to think I have a reasonable understanding of evidence based practice and sexual and mental health.

So the following is based on me pretending I know what I am talking about, but before I also get yelled at on twitter by the EBM evangelicals- or picked apart for selective evidence, this is a blog post and not an RCT (randomised control trial for those not in the know) so pretty much these need to be taken as musings and not evidence of anything other than THIS STUFF IS VERY IMPORTANT TO THINK AND TALK ABOUT. 

So here are my points:

1) All science occurs under patriachal capitalist conditions. We like to think science is objective but it simply can never be due to these forces. We can try, but the fact of the matter is pharmaceutical companies have vested interests in favourable research, female research and researchers are much more likely to be marginalised (and no I don’t think “double blind peer review” is enough to ensure female led research has an equal footing to male led research).  Female voices and experiences are continually erased throughout history and in life and this is also true in science.

2) The evidence for and against the pill possibly causing mental health issues is still very mixed, however much people are firing evidence one way or the other to “prove their point”. The only conclusion I think that can be made is “we don’t know enough yet but it’s worth investigating further.” 

The very clever @Unity_MoT (luff him) has been pointing out the following.



3) So erm How dare people erase the lived experience of women like this!? The sheer volume of women on twitter talking about their mental health experiences as a result of hormonal contraception should be raising red flags somewhere. How can this be dismissed because the “evidence” (such as it is) says there is no effect!? How about listening to women? That especially goes to clinicians. In my job I have worked with clinicians who are far to willing to prescribe LARC’s (long acting reversible contraceptives) without bothering to take the time to ensure this is an informed choice by the young person. To the extent I know of a young lesbian woman with an implant in (despite not having sex with men) because the Dr wasn’t listening too her and she was too embarrased to come out to them, and inexperienced to know that the implant might not be the best choice for her to sort her painful periods given she DOESN’T HAVE SEX WITH MEN AND IS NOT AT RISK OF TEENAGE PREGNANCY. I’ve seen clinicians first hand dismissing women who are drawing a link between their mental health and the pill as “its not due to that” and deciding there must be something else going on, so prescribing anti-depressants. Big Pharma must be rubbing their hands with glee. 


4) I’m sharing my lived experience here in solidarity with Dr Alice Roberts but at same time it is probably bit TMI for my work blog post (sorry!) Certain pills made me feel mental and as soon as I came off them I felt so much better. However I have had times in my life where I was fine on a particular pill and then when I went back to it years later I didn’t react well to it.  So based on my sample size of 1 I think the pill may effect mood but it doesn’t always and there may well be other factors at play, but for me the mood lift in the days after coming off the pill is too much to be a coincidence. Interestingly my husband considers my mood on hormonal contraception to be much more regular, than off the pill where it is admittedly at times variable :D but a regular low mood is not as much fun as a rollercoaster ending in a dip of weepy cathartic PMT. :D 

5) So in conclusion where does this furore leave those of us who talk about contraception for a living? I don’t see there is any problem in talking about one of the possible side effects of the pill may be low mood and explaining that the evidence for this effects is mixed, lots of women will be fine, other women may not feel great on it,  so it is down to the individual to try out the contraception that works best for them and their life and with the side effects they feel they can live with. 

As an aside a sexual health colleague of mine is trying to get clinicians to explain the side effects of the implant, such as erratic bleeding for a few months after insertion to women. This is because studies have shown that women who have the implant for more than 8 weeks are more likely to keep it once the bleeding has settled down, but those who weren’t expecting these side effeects can’t cope and want to get it taken out early but then face battles with health professionals reluctant to remove it. He thinks some work done around explaining the side effects and supporting women to get through the early days whilst their body settles into the new method would mean less women taking it out, and less costs to the NHS.   Reasonable I think.

What I’m trying to say is some expectation management about side effects in the early days can help women find a method to best suit them but the key is give women the facts and support them to make their own choices. Don’t disregard our voices because our experience doesn’t fit with the evidence narrative.

Informed choice innit. 

Rant over. 



SRE- It’s my right.

Today the Sex Education Forum have launched their It’s my right campaign.  Including a letter in the guardian with a signature from yours truly.

Being a big fan of human rights just wanted to set out that the World Health Organisation specifies the right to information as well as education in their list of sexual rights.

They also “Recommend the provision of scientifically accurate and comprehensive sexuality education programmes within and outside of schools that include information on contraceptive use and acquisition” in their guidance and reccommendations on Ensuring human rights in the provision of contraceptive information and services.(WHO, 2014)

Plus the UN convention on the rights of the child features Article 28 which outlines the right of the child to an education. In 2010, a report the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, explicitly stated that this includes the right to a ‘sexual education’ and set out a number of standards, outlining the right to a ‘comprehensive sexual education’ within the context international human rights law) including: “There is no valid excuse for not providing people with the comprehensive sexual education that they need in order to lead a dignified and healthy life.” amongst other gems. The whole document is well worth a read.

So yes SRE is a human rights issue, and yes SRE it’s my right, it’s my daughters rights, its all our rights.

Here’s hoping the government will finally listen and set these rights into legislation.



The social cachet of getting a girl to have anal sex.

Thanks to porn culture, getting a girl to have anal sex carries social cachet. It gives “man points” to boys desperately performing competitive masculinity so they find themselves pressurising, co-ercing, pleading, persuading, or worse taking anal sex from their partners by arguing they “slipped” etc.   The boys admit they don’t necessarily enjoy the activity, and funnily enough neither do the girls (enjoyable anal sex is something that initially requires arousal, relaxation, patience and a lot of lube- circumstances most likely absent from these interactions!) but the prospect of the “man points” is something young men feel they have to achieve. These same boys when asked if they had ever raped or sexually abused anyone would probably answer No.

In school based sex education (secondary), the topic of anal sex is often avoided, it’s a subject of social taboo, and in the clash of sexualities and schooling, schools are sometimes seen as an inappropriate place for discussions on particular sexual practices. However a sex educators job is not to teach sex techniques to teenagers but to teach them that each of them has a right for their bodies to be respected and to be able to confidently negotiate their own pleasure on their own terms, and take responsibility for their partners pleasure and respecting their body. A true understanding of pleasure and consent is the core learning aim.   I think schools and parents have to be having conversations with young people about these issues around anal sex (whilst being very clear not to mislabel it as “gay sex”, as a side issue is anal sex is still often seen as an activity gay men do despite proprotionally more heterosexuals will be having anal sex than gay men*), because otherwise there is a reasonable likelihood they will be being pressured into types of sex they don’t enjoy and are not ready for, and this can have a massive impact on their mental and sexual health.

At the very least I think we have to break down these ideas of competitive masculinities and feminities with young people, where a male must be a stud, getting pornified sex, banging lots of women whilst a female must be somehow a combination of pure and virginal yet sexy and seductive in the correct social formula, lest see become outcast as frigid or a slag.  Even if schools don’t feel able to have a conversation about anal sex with young people, having conversations about rights, negotiation, dealing with pressure, avoiding pressuring a partner, communicating about things you enjoy, being aware of gender issues and navigating stereotypes etc could go a long way to support young men and women be having enjoyable sex they want to be having on their own terms at a time they are ready for (FYI sex education has been shown to delay first sex rather than encourage it).

* One survey suggested that as ~30% of gay men have anal sex, but around 10% of heterosexuals do, as there are more heterosexuals than gay men (less than 5% of population), then proprtionally more heterosexuals are having anal sex than gay men. But also in terms of inclusion it is extremely important to not just frame sex education as “penis in vagina” sex, as for lots of our young people that won’t be the type of sex they will be having or enjoy.

Joining up the dots….

  • Self Esteem
  • Healthy Relationships
  • Health including sexual health and mental health
  • Increased Confidence, Assertiveness skills
  • Independence and abilities to seek help when needed
  • Knowledge and understanding of the human body
  • Knowledge and understanding of relationships, sex, sexuality, sexual health, pregnancy and pregnancy choices, contraception, STI’s, abortion, consent, power, gender, sex in the media, ethics etc etc.
  • Contribute to reducing teenage pregnancy rates
  • Contribute to reducing STI transmission rates
  • Contribute to reducing sexual crime rates
  • Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development (SMSC)
  • Anti-bullying (including Transphobia, Homophobia, Biphobia, sexists and sexual bullying)
  • Gendered Harrassment and Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)
  • Sexual harrassment, assault and rape
  • Domestic violence and violence in teen relationships
  • Sexualisation
  • Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)
  • Tackling gang violence
  • FGM
  • Equality
  • Inclusion
  • Wellbeing

What is the one thing that joins these dots together? *subtle hint- it’s my favourite subject!*

This list was off the top of my head in 5 minutes I am sure there are many more things that high quality Sex and Relationships Education can contribute too (tweet me or comment below and I will add to list).   I find it so frustrating that these links are not always made by policy makers.   High quality SRE can contribute to prevention efforts of many of the negatives on that list and significantly boost the positives.

A gentle reminder that pretty much everyone on this planet has sex at some point in their lives and the vast majority of us are here because our parents had sex. Sex is central in society yet hidden, tabboo and maligned. Which means sex education is also. Seems daft when you think sex and sex education impacts on so much.

How can we help the policy makers join up the dots and see that significant investment in High Quality SRE is crucial as it contributes to so many vital areas of current concern? Without such investment, many of the agendas in this list will not suceed.