Patchy sex and relationship education risks ‘warped and misogynistic attitudes’ in pupils | UK News

“Has anybody ever heard of the phrase ‘red flags’?”

A handful of year nine students raise their hands.

“It’s a warning,” one boy says. “A sign that a relationship is about to become toxic,” his classmate Sarah adds.

The group of 13 and 14 year olds is taking part in a healthy relationship workshop by the organisation Tender, an extension to the school’s health, sex, and relationships curriculum.

During the hour-long session, they discuss themes such as consent in daily life and healthy relationships, before roll-playing a scenario in which a 15-year-old girl is targeted by an older teen at a party.

Their answers are considered and insightful; the young boys in the room are particularly keen to talk about which behaviours are wrong – and why.

Tender's healthy relationship workshop
Tender’s healthy relationship workshop

Tender’s chief executive Susie McDonald says without lessons like these, children can pick up very damaging habits.

“While relationship education in schools isn’t consistently good across the country, young people are often accessing relationship education through online media.

“So they may be gaining information from places like pornography and making assumptions therefore about what their relationships should be like; which is often very, very harmful and very misogynistic.”

Relationships and sex education was made compulsory in 2020, but there are concerns among teachers and campaigners that it is not being prioritised by the government, and that the quality of teaching in the subject remains patchy.

Since 2020, only half of a £6m fund to roll out the subject has been accessed by schools.

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The government says it’s “clear the schools should be alive to issues such as everyday sexism, misogyny and gender stereotypes”.

Deputy head, and head of safeguarding at Woodside High School Laura Sanford thinks there should be statutory training for anyone teaching these subjects

“As a safeguarding lead, I have to sit through two days of training to ensure that I can effectively support young people.

“That needs to be the same for PSHE training and relationship education training.

“I think it’s about making sure that there’s a course or a specialism that people have to have that make sure that they can teach it effectively for young people and that they’re all getting the same experience, no matter what the school.”

A Woodside High School pupil quizzed during a sex and relationships lesson
A Woodside High School pupil at a sex and relationships lesson

‘Warped and misogynistic attitudes’

Recent analysis of school inspection data by Ofsted found that mentions of the terms sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and safeguarding incident had grown by more than 400% between 2019 and 2022.

While the term sexual harassment in reports grew from three to 106, a rise of more than 3,000%.

While this may be partially down to improvements in awareness, teachers are growing increasingly concerned about the way the internet and social media – from porn to celebrity influencers – are encouraging warped and misogynist attitudes to sex and relationships in ever younger children.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition has now called on the government to prioritise sex and relationship education for children, accusing the government of politicising the subject by announcing a review last March.

The government said it was concerned that children are being exposed to “inappropriate” content, and in October, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan wrote to parents to inform them of their right to know what their children are seeing and being taught in the classroom.

Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Andrea Simon, said she’s “concerned that the timing of the review is reacting to contested claims that inappropriate content is being taught, as well as rooted in anti-LGBT+ rhetoric”.

“Giving young people the education and tools they need to identify and challenge abuse is vital if we are to have any hope of reducing the likelihood of abuse in adult relationships, addressing the prevalence of violence against women and girls across society, and building radically different futures where everyone thrives,” she added.