Last week I was talking to one of the @BeSexPositive volunteers who was involved in developing Brook’s 21st Century Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) campaign in 2011 (find out more here). We started with the important bit – the day JLS said they would support the campaign and their visit to our offices. We then moved on to talking about the development of the campaign. We worked with an agency to help us develop our campaign for ‘statutory SRE’. They challenged us hard to develop a different concept because most people wouldn’t understand what statutory SRE is, what would be different than now, and anyway if government is saying they will not make it statutory we needed a concept that would provide space for a credible alternative. And so the concept of 21st Century SRE was born.
And as the debates have shown over the last months, they were right. I still firmly believe that statutory SRE is the way that we will see the type of improvements we need, but I am really willing to be proven otherwise. In 2011, Ann Milton, then Public Health Minister, when speaking at Brook’s conference said SRE must be improved but that statutory obligations were not the way to make it happen. If there is another way to make the long jump we need to make sure all children and young people get 21st Century SRE show me that way and I, and I am sure most others will be a big champion.
I changed my Twitter profile at the beginning of January to read: “Optimistic 2014 will be a good year for sex and relationships education”. If January is anything to go by, those of us who have campaigned for high quality sex and relationships education for decades should be having a party by the end of the year.
The political support for high quality SRE keeps growing. Below are statements/tweets from our Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Shadow Home Secretary in the last couple of weeks – these statements from three of the most senior people across the main political parties.
“I think we can do better in terms of sex and relationship education. We must focus on healthy relationships, and I think we can add onto the guidance that’s produced, better guidance on, for instance, problems of cyber-bullying, sexting – we need to deal with that.”
– David Cameron, speaking before the Commons Liaison Committee, January 2014
“I think there is a special need for us to improve, strengthen, modernise and update the way that we provide sex and relationship guidance and education in schools.”
– Nick Clegg, speaking at a reception for sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, January 2014
“We are hoping that the House of Lords will vote for compulsory sex and relationships education which […] has to include updated guidance around the internet, around exposure to pornography, and all of those sorts of pressures on young people.”
– Yvette Cooper, BBC Woman’s Hour, 27 January 2014
This week the House of Lords will debate a number of amendments to make SRE statutory and a separate one to update the statutory guidance. Follow @BrookCharity and @simonablake for the latest information about progress with those debates. Whatever the outcome of these debates, it is clear that we are reaching a tipping point where more and more sensible people are recognising that good SRE is critical in enabling children and young people to move from puberty into adolescence and adulthood with the confidence, skills and resilience to navigate their way through 21st century Britain. A briefing on the amendment is available here. Labour’s campaign for statutory SRE is here.
At the same time parents, carers and all those working with children and young people know good SRE is vital and want help to do it well. So to help schools, independently of government, Brook has teamed up with the PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum to produce Supplementary Advice to the SRE Guidance (0116/2000) which we will be publishing in the next month. We have had expert input from a range of organisations to help us. The Advice will address issues that are not in the statutory SRE Guidance, such as teaching about healthy relationships, sexual consent, and violence and exploitation as well as topics thrown into sharp relief by the rapid development of technology such as online pornography and ‘sexting’.
It is clear that the consensus in support of SRE keeps on building, both across political parties, professional groups and the general public, but is it time to get out the party frock? Let’s keep our fingers crossed, but my instinct is probably not just yet. We have though reached a tipping point and there is no way but forward. Whilst the politicians keep debating the whys and wherefores, all of us on the ground of course must and will keep on doing our best working in partnership with children and young people to develop and deliver the 21st Century SRE they tell us they want.