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!) :

SEX EDUCATION TEACHERS ARE NOT BEING TOLD (BY ANY GUIDANCE DOCUMENT OR ANYONE ELSE) TO SAY SEX AT 13 IS OKAY! 

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?

 

 

 

 

A quick recap on this equalities and school policies issue so far.


People are probably getting lost in my many posts on this issue so too recap:

My main issues are

a) I’ve found 100’s of schools with problematic policies relating to the EXACT wording of current DfE SRE Guidance documentation. (DfE whilst mounting a challenge to those include “must not promote homosexuality” are keeping quiet on what they think of those that say “must not promote sexual orientation” given this is in their own current guidance for schools)
b) DfE removed “legalisation of homosexuality and abortion” from previous to latest draft history curriculum.
c) DfE for deliberately removed gender identity from a specific equal opportunities statement from previous draft.

I have real issues with the phrasing of the current SRE guidance and I have been wondering for months if it might be in breach of equality act.  It is very clear schools are confused with their rights and responsibilities on this issue especially given that
one of the schools with a problematic policy has published their equality policy online it states “we do not promote one life style choice over another” (implying sexual orientation or gender identity is a lifestyle choice, sigh.)

Will keep you posted.

Note to schools- presenting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as a “Lifestyle Choice” is not inclusive – however well meaning your policy.


One of the schools involved in the “section 28” row has published their equality policy*

it states:

‘Under the equality duty all schools must have due regard to the need to eliminate
discrimination advance equality and foster good relations between lesbian, gay and
transsexual pupils and those who do not share those protected characteristics. Schools are required to publish information to demonstrate compliance with this aspect of the equality duty’.
As an Academy we must be aware that we do not promote one life style choice over another and that our own personal views are not brought into the Academy on this matter and that we ensure we are eliminating discrimination and promoting equality.”

(emphasis mine) It is clearly a well meaning policy but presenting gender identity/ sexual orientation as a lifestyle choice indicates a basic failure to understand the issues they are dealing with. A shame as I’m sure they have good intentions- they just need more help in meeting the needs of their LGBT students.

*I am not naming the school or linking to it here as I have no interest in scapegoating a particular school, that is unfair – this indicates a wider problem of schools just not knowing how to draw up inclusive policies. I used to work as a Local Authority Lead for SRE- we would support schools on policy development- now more and more schools are academies they don’t have access to the expertise they vitally need.

“Legalisation of homosexuality & abortion” removed from Draft History National Curriculum.


Well well well interesting discoveries going on today.

In Feb 2013 the Draft History Curriculum stated students should learn about:

“society and social reform, including the abolition of capital punishment, the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality, and the Race Relations Act” (Page 171)

But in the current June 2013 draft this had been removed. The Equalities Impact Assessment Statement gave this rationale (page 10):

Whilst we recognise that some of the specific content which we have removed was welcomed by equalities organisations, we believe that strong concerns raised about the over-prescriptive nature of the draft programmes of study mean that this has been a
necessary step in producing a curriculum that can and will be taught. It will remain open to schools to choose which particular individuals they teach pupils about, both as part of delivering the prescribed content of the national curriculum and as part of their wider
school curriculum, and in doing so we expect them to consider the importance of identifying role models from a diverse range of ethnic and other backgrounds”

 

and also states later in the section under science (page 12).

“On same-sex relationships, our view is that it is most appropriate for schools to cover this topic as part of PSHE education, where it can be adapted more effectively to suit the needs of particular groups of pupils.”

 

 

Interesting. So sexual orientation and gender identity are completely erased from the National Curriculum, and gender identity is even erased from the inclusion statement in the latest version & the statement about same sex relationships being best taught in PSHE* is hidden away in the Equality Act Impact Assessment which no teacher will ever read unless they are a dork like me  to find out more details about what they should be teaching.

Today is a sad day. Uncovering just how far institutional heternormativity pervades government institutions. On the plus side it’s worth a paragraph or two in the masters! 

 

 

 

(*In terms of PSHE it is not part of the National Curriculum and so DfE have not produced a programme of study but the PSHE Association have just launched a pretty good and inclusive one – I should know I consulted on aspects of it!)

Puberty is mentioned in the latest draft of Science National Curriculum


So I do believe we are now on Draft 3 of this 224 page National curriculum document.  There is yet ANOTHER consultation on it which ends in August.

The big news is Puberty is now mentioned in Year 5 which is absolutely when it should be at least (not left until last days of Summer term of Y6 which is far too late given many will have started puberty by then) – so I’m really pleased about that.

The other changes we need to see to support young people have not been made. Here are my previous blogs on the issue-

A letter from Liz Truss

A Political Hot Potato

Naming of the Teeth Versus Naming of the Genitals

I also note there is nothing really on microbes, disease and vaccinations in the doc. (Not just for teaching about HIV and other STI’s, and about the HPV vaccine (which most girls have at secondary school now) but also for general health and hygiene- things like Swine Flu and other pandemics are not going to stop happening- we need to teach kids about them.)

So erm this is the document to catch us up with the worlds best, but misses so much crucial scientific info out it is not even funny (I’m speaking with my Science Teacher hat on here). Plus academies don’t even have to follow this document and they now that they make up 45% of secondary schools and since Gove seems to want all schools to become academies, then I’m not entirely sure what the point to a “national” curriculum is any more.

Le Sigh.

There are lots of other issues with the doc which I will link to as the orgs I work for publish their responses. Watch this space.