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Fact check: Sexual harassment in schools - PSHE education and the curriculum

Women and Equalities Committee

We have identified specific areas of the Government's written evidence for further scrutiny. We invite your comments on the strength of the Government's evidence on the current status of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education and its work in this area. Please include hyperlinks or references for any alternative evidence you refer to in your appraisal.

The comments received will help the Committee evaluate the evidence received from the Department and identify where contrasting evidence exists.

The Committee will use the input it receives to question ministers on July 12 and may quote from comments in its final report.


Please read the Department for Education's evidence on the curriculum and PSHE education

Return to sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools inquiry

14 Contributions (since 22 June 2016)
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Total results 14 (page 2 of 2)

Lucy Emmerson

04 July 2016 at 14:22

The Government rightly acknowledges in their evidence that ‘Sex and relationships education (SRE) can provide the knowledge needed to tackle negative attitudes that lead to sexual harassment and violence’ and that ‘PSHE can help to reduce incidents of harassment and violence by equipping pupils with the knowledge and skills to understand and manage difficult situations, recognise and manage risk, make safer choices, and recognise when pressure from others threatens their personal safety and wellbeing’. However, the Government evidence does not address the fact that SRE remains inadequate in many schools and is absent altogether in some schools. Although the Government describes PSHE as something that all schools are expected to teach, and SRE as something that must be taught in all maintained secondary schools, SRE and PSHE do not have the same status as other subjects. There is very clear evidence from Ofsted, local authorities and young people themselves that SRE is inadequate or absent in some schools. This evidence is documented as follows: •Ofsted (PSHE: Not yet good enough, 2013), ( •Written evidence submitted by Sex Education Forum to the Education Select Committee inquiry into PSHE and SRE in 2014, especially case study information from local authorities describing gaps in SRE provision. ( evidencedocument/education-committee/personal-social-health-and-economic-education-and-sex-and-relationships-education-in-schools/written/15456.html) •In ‘Heads or Tails’ (Sex Education Forum, 2016) which published findings from a survey of over 2000 young people, which found that 46% had not learnt about ‘how to tell when a relationship is healthy’, 44% had not learnt about ‘how to tell when a relationship is abusive and 43% had not learnt about ‘the responsibility for getting consent as well as the choice to give consent’. ( The fact remains that legislation does not require all schools to teach SRE, and the government has acknowledged the fact that primary schools can choose whether or not to have a programme of SRE. Furthermore, the Government’s policy is that more schools become academies. Yet academies have no legislative obligation to teach SRE. The Government has not provided any evidence to back up their assumption that ‘we believe that most secondary academies and many primary schools also teach [SRE]’. In fact, recent evidence from young people (SEF, Heads or Tails, 2016) shows that the chances of getting good quality SRE in secondary school are about 50/50, no better than the toss of a coin. Yet 90% of students want SRE to be compulsory (NUS, 2015). The Government refers to guidance and resources which it has commissioned to support the teaching of PSHE and SRE, but these materials do not provide full coverage of the subject. The PSHE Association guidance on consent only applies to secondary schools, but negative attitudes that lead to sexual harassment and violence start forming at primary age. The Government has not provided any evidence about the take up and use of the guidance and resources that they refer to. The Government’s own SRE guidance is now 16 years old. While the Government evidence points to their talks with leading headteachers and practitioners to produce an action plan for improving PSHE there is still no plan, or timeline for action and the recommendation made by the Education Select Committee in February 2015 to make PSHE and SRE statutory in all primary and secondary schools has been ignored. The need to ‘ensure that meaningful sexual and reproductive health education is part of the mandatory school curriculum for all schools’ has also been recommended to the State party by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (June 2016). The Government evidence refers to the computing curriculum as a place to learn ‘responsible, respectful and secure use of technology’. However computing is not an adequate substitute for good quality SRE. SRE, not computing, is the right place to learn about consent, gender, body image and relationships. To ensure this happens SRE should be guaranteed for all children and young people, just as computing education has. The Government has rightly referred to the importance of SRE and PSHE being of high quality and not a ‘tick box’ approach. That is why the subject needs the status that comes with being a requirement in all schools, not an optional extra. If SRE was a requirement in all schools it would signal the need for teachers to be adequately trained in the subject, and help to ensure investment in training and opportunities to train as a specialist SRE / PSHE teacher. The Government must cease procrastinating and begin responding to the call from young people, teachers, parents, health and child protection experts, and make SRE, as part of an entitlement to PSHE, a requirement in all schools. There is a natural opportunity to do this as part of the Education for All Bill. SRE should be for all children and young people because it is everyone’s right. Links Ofsted (2013) PSHE Not yet good enough Sex Education Forum (2016) ‘Heads or Tails, what young people are telling us about SRE’ House of Commons Education Committee (2015) Life lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools 145/145.pdf (2016) UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2016) Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Sex Education Forum (2014) SRE0468 Further written evidence submitted by the Sex Education Forum evidencedocument/education-committee/personal-social-health-and-economic-education-and-sex-and-relationships-education-in-schools/written/15456.html NUS (2014) Student opinion survey

Di Harrill

04 July 2016 at 13:24

Personal, Social and Health Education should be a National Curriculum Foundation subject throughout school life. It should be compulsory in all types of schools and colleges. Children and young people are faced with many pressures to copy or conform. Their formal education must help them meet these complex challenges. Research shows children and young people want opportunities to discuss issues that are relevant to their lives and their well-being. PSHE needs adequate delivery time taught by specialist teachers. It should be progressive and relevant to children’s emotional needs. Much emphasis is put on academic achievement, however, without the ability to stay safe and make good healthy choices, academic success can be limited. Personal, Social and Health Education covers many important areas surrounding health and well-being, too many to mention today. However, among some of the most important areas that can be explored to good effect are some for which NCW campaigns for change. Areas of sexualisation, body image, pornography, sexual exploitation, violence against woman, and under pinning all of these, gender inequality and the need to develop positive relationships. Researchers believe sexualisation puts young children particularly girls, at risk. It distracts them from the usual childhood pursuits and games that build to a healthier foundation for adulthood, including self-confidence and emotional resilience. When girls, at an early age, are encouraged away from their own personally directed play, it can promote a tendency to compliance, risk-aversion and the pursuit of extrinsic rewards. Young people have to deal with many influences surrounding conformity, for example body image. The adulation of certain body types can make many of us feel insecure and have some damaging consequences: For impressionable young people the impact can be devastating. It is not hard to see how such influences are potentially responsible for eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. There could also be a risk that they may become targets of sexual predation if messages show that it is acceptable to see these young girls as sexually interesting. Young people can develop a balanced view through high quality PSHE. Research has proven violence against women is so often caused by gender inequality – including unequal power relations between women and men, girls and boys, rigid gender roles and ascribing women lower status in society. Promoting and achieving gender equality is a critical element for the prevention of violence against women. This is something that can be tackled in a progressive PSHE programme. I will touch briefly on one more area, smart phones. These give young people the ability instantly to access often unfiltered information from the World Wide Web. Many young people see warped internet pornography as normal sexual behaviour, reducing women to sexual objects. Pornography used by boys and young men is also resulting in unrealistic and artificial expectations of both women and men. In order to change attitudes, we need to educate, boys’ to consider the importance of respect and equality in a relationship and girls to develop good self-worth and self-esteem. In conclusion, PSHE education equips children and young people with knowledge, understanding, practical skills, such as financial capability, and the attitude to live healthy, safe, productive, fulfilled, and responsible lives. It encourages them to be enterprising and supports them in making effective positive learning and career choices.

Lynnette Smith

28 June 2016 at 21:17

This is an encouraging start, the acknowledgement that quality PSHE & SRE are fundamental to the education of our children and young people when it comes to recognising and responding to unacceptable sexual harassment and violence. I particularly like paragraph 40 which makes reference to "ensure that all pupils receive high quality, age appropriate PSHE and SRE" this is so necessary. We have seen the amazing impact that this can have, when a coordinated, linked spiral curriculum is delivered in School pyramids, year on year from with children and young people aged 3 ~ 16yrs. One point that is not included is the involvement of Parents & Carers, the education and awareness raising of the previous generation is imperative, as someone who talks with 100's of Parents/Carers each year, it's vital to get them on-side and explain WHY age appropriate SRE is essential and WHAT exactly it is ~ as opposed to how it is sensationalised in some papers and the media. It is a vital element of proactive safeguarding, right up there with learning to swim and cross the road! Faith Schools are a prime example of initial reserve and then embracing these approaches, once the bigger picture and contemporary risks are explained, protecting children is imperative.

Jessica Eaton

28 June 2016 at 00:15

As someone who has been teaching teachers how to deliver RSE and PSHE sessions, I have noticed the following that relates to this document: 1. Teachers need fairly intensive training on the underlying issues and topics before they can confidently deliver these important sessions. If we don't train them, they feel completely out of their depth and worry that they will deliver it 'wrong' 2. Teachers worry very much about the reaction of parents to their module content and need reassurance that they are doing the right thing. Moving towards a model in which schools just inform parents of the upcoming sessions on consent or sexual Abuse or gender roles or pornification should not actively ask the parent to return a slip to give permission, instead, it should explain why it is in the best interests of the child and invite parents to call in or write in if they are anxious or have concerns and they can look at the materials themselves. I have found that this approach reduces the amount of parents who object by just not sending the slip back and encourages them to call into the school and discuss it (which gives teachers more opportunity to listen to their actual concerns and misconceptions about the sessions) 3. Teachers worry about disclosures and how to tackle issues in sessions. This can be dealt with by a good training programme and refresher safeguarding training 4. Teachers are humans too and this means that many of their values differ. Some feel passionately that RSE and PSHE needs to start ASAP and others are not at all comfortable with that notion. This needs to be addressed. 5. RSE needs a real update in the way it is delivered and taught. We cannot and must not continue to teach sex as a biological and mechanical process by which a woman gets pregnant. Sex is an intimate, personal choice that is simultaneously socially constructed and socially policed. Children need to understand intimacy, what good touching, good sex and good intimacy feels like and how to know when it doesn't feel so great and how to respond when someone says stop and how to say stop themselves. They need sessions on peer pressure into sex, manipulation, abuse, exploitation, porn, objectification, sexual bullying, sexual harassment of women and all of the other surrounding issues such as sex in the media and the media representation and exploitation of sex.

Total results 14 (page 2 of 2)