Why should SRE be compulsory?

What are the EVAW Coalition and Everyday Sexism Project asking for?


Sex & Relationships Education to be made compulsory in all schools in England, primary and secondary, state and private.


Because young people today are bombarded with negative conflicting messages about sex & relationships & how men and women should treat each other – from music vids like Blurred Lines, to online porn, which they see whether or not they seek it out, but whose content is directly linked to harmful and sexist attitudes in boys and young men. And from the behaviour of their peers in school where abusive and coercive ‘sexting’ and sexual harassment are common.


This matter is urgent – which is why we are asking party leaders David Cameron, Ed Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to include clear commitment to compulsory SRE, as part of Personal, Social, Health and Economics (PSHE) in their manifestoes for the general election in May 2015.


Giving young people the info they want and need, and the opportunity to talk, is the best method we have of preventing abuse in the long term. Experts in the field all agree.


Many people, when asked, believe SRE is already compulsory and are surprised to hear that it isn’t (at the moment schools are only required to teach the biological basics of sexual reproduction by the age of 15, anything extra to this is voluntary). Public opinion surveys show it is popular – 86% UK adults agree (YouGov 2013).


EVAW has also launched a Factsheet for schools on violence against women and girls to fill a gap in the information they currently receive.


What are the barriers to compulsory SRE?


In the past there has been resistance to SRE b/c perhaps of fear that explicit material would be shared with young children. This is categorically not what this petition is calling for.


It’s simply not realistic to think that the internet porn genie can be forced back in the bottle or that we can prohibit under 18s access to it with a simple technical filters fix. Government action on pornography and sexualisation is welcome, but must go hand in hand with work to reinforce positive, respectful, healthy relationships in school. It needs to be done in an age appropriate way from primary school – and is in many places.




The new national curriculum makes healthy eating compulsory. We surely have to regard SRE and the way we say men and women shoud treat each other with comparable importance:


Let’s ask why SRE hasn’t been made compulsory before now – it’s b/c we are a society that thinks it is sexually open (and equal) yet we are not, so we sweep the issue under the carpet even though the evidence of harm is all around us…


Why leave it to chance where or how children learn about respectful and non-abusive relationships? We don’t want to be here in 20 years time with a generation of young men who have only learned sexist messages about women through the media and pornography.


What exactly do schools have to teach at present?


Biological basics by age 15. And they can do in any subject they like – eg faith schools commonly deliver it in RE. Heads and governors can decide to do it differently, they can do high quality PSHE and invest in trained teachers, but there is no requirement to do so. Lots of young people say their sex education was poor or non-existent.


What age do you think should SRE start? Do you think 5 year olds should do SRE? Do you think kids in nursery should do SRE?


Yes. Age appropriate. At a very young age it’s about privacy, respecting other people’s privacy. With very young children – we already talk to them about treating our friends and carers with respect and kindness, it’s little more than that.


It’s abt relationships. No child is too young for these conversations. You’d stop a young child hitting, bullying, name-calling and you’d tell them why it’s wrong, and you’d have a school/nursery ethos designed to foster different behaviour. How boys and girls behave towards one another belongs here.


Do you think parents should be able to withdraw their kids from SRE classes?


This is a tricky question for many but we do not believe parents should be permitted to do so – young people have a human right to this information and to be protected. In some cases children are most at risk at home in the family – we need to ensure all young people get to hear about how to identify abuse and that they can seek support and will be believed.


Do you think faith schools should be forced to do SRE lessons?


Again, this is difficult for some people but first of all we are not being “prescriptive”, we know that well trained teachers actually find the best ways of getting accurate info across and, critically, of listening to young people and finding out what they want to know. This isn’t prescription, it’s dialogue with young people.


Who should teach these classes? What kind of training should they have?


Well trained teachers (eg PSHE teachers) and outside organisations can provide excellent options. EVAW research ‘Promising Practices’ looked at projects around the country and found that SRE for teens works well when delivered by strangers and when boys and girls are taken separately.


Is SRE enough given the problems you describe?


Good question. Every expert says it’s where we have to start. Delivering good SRE to every child will in fact increase disclosures of abuse. Teachers need to be trained to respond to this and support needs to be there for survivors as well as adequate interventions for boys who are at risk of abusing.


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