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?

 

 

 

 

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How clear is the DfE SRE Guidance? A Poll


So the DfE are widely quoted as saying:

“‘Our sex and relationship education guidance makes it clear that schools should not promote any sexual orientation.” (emphasis mine)

“Clear” they say?

The document in question actually states:

a) It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or

sexual activity – this would be inappropriate teaching. (Page 5)

b) “There should be no direct promotion of

sexual orientation.” (Page 13)

c)

“It is inappropriate for youth workers, as with any professional, to promote sexual
orientation.” (Page 28)

What a difference the addition of “any” makes to those statements.

So I did a poll- just for fun- how clear are the DfE in their SRE Guidance?

Keeping an “Up to date SRE policy” is enshrined in law- don’t use “it was an old policy” as an excuse for s28 style policies.


I am heartened that so many schools have taken down their problematic SRE Policies,  but some schools are claiming the policy was out of date (by more than 10 years- really!?) or it was an administrative error (despite evidence to the contrary).

I need to point out that the Education Act 1996 states that:

404: The governing body of a maintained school shall—

1 (a)make, and keep up to date, a separate written statement of their policy with regard to the provision of sex education, and

(b)make copies of the statement available for inspection (at all reasonable times) by parents of registered pupils at the school and provide a copy of the statement free of charge to any such parent who asks for one.

                                                                     (emphasis mine)

I don’t want to scapegoat any individual school as I think the problem is actually far wider than the 46 schools identified so far (I identified 100+ schools with problematic DfE worded policies– that swapped Homosexuality for Sexual Orientation- as it does in the current but dated SRE 2000 guidance).

But if a school is found to have a policy that is so woefully inadequate for the needs of their LGBT learners please do not then admit you have broken the law in other ways by not keeping your policy up to date. Instead apologise, accept support and help to develop better inclusive policies and learn from it as a school. This will be positive for all your learners. Brushing it off as an administrative error or updating oversight only continues to compound the issues within your school.

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.

Over 100 school policies identified that mention something on “not promoting sexual orientation”, many also include “that would be inappropriate teaching.”


I just did this google search (more info on this non-systematic search strategy can be found here), in the first 32 pages I identified OVER 100 school policies that include words to the effect of the DfE 2000 Guidance which states several times.

“It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or

sexual activity – this would be inappropriate teaching.”

I do not have time to go through all 138,000 google hits in that search but I am betting that hundreds and hundreds of schools include versions of this phrase.

After all these school policies are only following the exact wording from the guidance of the department for education.

Can we blame them?

These policies (and the more serious ones where “homosexuality is not allowed to be promoted“), and government guidance have create school cultures where homophobia and transphobia can thrive, and teachers are scared to challenge it lest they be accused of “promotion”.

The DfE are trying to spin it that they meant not promoting one sexual orientation (heterosexuality) over any other. We know they did not. The evidence from this post and this one shows just how little they care about students who are LGBT whatever noises they are currently making in the current media furore.

We cannot let them continue to get away with this. We cannot. I want my children to learn in an environment where they understand that everyone is equal and that differences are to be respected.

To do otherwise fails another generation.

DfE “statement” about teaching about sexual orientation (and gender identity?)


Today I have been looking if there was a specific recent DfE published statement about teaching about sexual orientation (and Gender Identity) that I wasn’t aware of. There isn’t one as far as I can see given that the Safe to Learn Guidance (on Homophobic Bullying and Sexist, Sexual and Transphobic Bullying) were pulled by this government. Sexual Orientation is included in the SRE guidance (but Gender Identity is not) and I have already blogged about the issues with that document, but at least it tries to be inclusive in places (apart from the “it is not about promotion of sexual orientation- that would be inappropriate teaching” caveat) But as far as I can tell there is no further official document since the 2000 document in place. However MP Stephen Williams wrote to DfE back in June on this issue he received this response which he tweeted today.

and given current government comment in this article and this article. I think we know where the government responses will be in coming days and weeks. They will claim they were clear all along (they were/are NOT) and that the individual schools are to blame for these policies when actually it is their systematic failure to include sexual and gender diversity within policies and the curriculum that has left schools in this mess and it is unfair to now pass the buck to the individual schools.

However I am very hopeful this will create the clear motivation and political will to change this for the better and properly include guidance for teachers and schools on how to properly and appropriately support and include students whatever their identity, and overall improve SRE guidance to include issues such as talking about consent and pornography which are current issues for young people completely omitted from this 13 year old document. Of course there is also the possibility things could end up worse, in terms of existing legislation and guidance and we must do everything in our power to stop that from happening.

 

 

 

Using the “proper words” for body parts- a gendered issue?


A year ago I wrote this for the New Statesman and on Tuesday the Sex Education Forum published this blog.

retweeting them yesterday @itsmotherswork asked in response

Which prompted this post as I needed to write a longer response than twitter allows for.

Personally I wouldn’t ever say any word to describe a body part is improper as it is just not a word I use (sounds a bit Victorian!), but obviously there are correct or scientific terms for body parts (penis) then colloquial accepted terms (willy) then slang or offensive terms (cock). That doesn’t mean the latter two are incorrect (if used about the right body part) but depends on context used in.

I have absolutely no objection to “bottom” being used instead of “anus” or “gluteus maximus” or “tummy” being used instead of “abdomen” as words to describe parts of the body for young children, children can build on the scientific terms for body parts as they grow up and tummy and bottom are widely accepted and pretty much universally known in English speaking countries.

I have HUGE OBJECTIONS to the fact that while “Willy” is a perfectly acceptable universal term to use for young children for the penis there absolutely no universal acceptable term for the vulva for children (terms range from the cutesy Fairy, NooNoo, Minnie, Twinkle*  to the rather cool Yoni (sanskrit for Vagina) frankly ick Front Bottom or Split).  This is about erasure of female sexuality, female identity- we are taught from a young age that our body parts are not even deserving of a proper name, they are either to be cutesey or shameful and mustn’t be discussed.  Have to be honest even I as a sex educator initially I was really not keen on the word vulva for a long time but in the absence of a better alternative**  it is what I use with my children***

Nowadays I am totally comfortable with the word vulva but I am 100% sure that the reason the DfE are completely refusing to specify Penis and Vulva and Vagina in the Science National Curriculum is because of a fear of the word vulva. Penis is not the problem. Vulva (and possibly vagina) is. But in the absence of a universal accepted colloquialism for vulva then vulva is what we must use- to do otherwise is a potential route to confusion, worry, stigma and shame.  It is a safeguarding issue not to have a common language of a body part that might be touched inappropriately****. It is also a health issue to be able to talk about where itches or is causing problems and it a sexuality issue about learning to communicate about your own body so that as a sexually active adult you know your body is not a source of sniggering or shame.

So vulva is a proper word- embrace it, say it with me. vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva

*Twinkle  always makes me think of the phrase “twinkle in your father’s eye”- Shudder.

** I decided against vagina as not anatomically correct as refers to the internal genitals.

***Whilst being respectful of any made up slang words they choose to adopt for their own body parts – but must admit I did gently steer away from “front bottom” which was picked up at nursery!

**** I read somewhere about a dad investigated at length by social services after a child was crying about “Daddy hurting my NooNoo”- NooNoo being her toy rabbit he had put in the washing machine- maybe an urban legend but makes a point.

Sex and Relationships Education- A political hot potato game of piggy in the middle.


The government on the one hand says “we have full confidence in our teachers to teach their students what will be best for their education” but on the other hand says “the guidance note on reproduction is included to make sure pupils are not introduced to age inappropriate material”, and thus it lobs the hot potato of SRE into the hands of the teachers.

The teachers whom without statutory status of PSHE, without proper guidance, training and support are just not able to teach SRE to the standard it needs to currently needs to be so they either quietly drop the potato and hope no-one notices or they lob it back to the government demanding change from on high.

Meanwhile the children and young people continue to miss out on their entitlement to high quality age appropriate SRE. Another generation of poor piggys in the middle. IT IS STILL NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

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Help for educators in dealing with sexualised media including pornography.


Today an article of mine was published in the TES-

Should we panic about Pornography?

Alongside this Spencer Williams and I wrote a guide for Teachers with some ideas and tips on how to cover it in lessons. This document also covers reference to the two main commercially available educational resources dealing with Porn and links to training courses and further reading.  It is a collaborative working document and will be updated as we go along so if you have any ideas or resources you want to share please do!

Pornography- Tips in how to address in SRE lessons.

It can be downloaded as a PDF – all you need is a TES Login.

Happy Educating.