A coalition of women, youth and anti-violence charities warn that schools are not currently ‘safe spaces where pupils are free to learn’
Girlguides are demanding that the Education Secretary introduce compulsory consent lessons because sexual harassment in school corridors has become “normalised”.
A coalition of women, youth and anti-violence charities – spearheaded by Girlguiding – has written to Gillian Keegan to demand comprehensive teaching about relationships, sex education and the importance of consent.
They accuse the Government of failing to embed relationships and sex education (RSE) in the curriculum after repeated delays during the pandemic, and claim that schools are not currently “safe spaces where pupils are free to learn”.
In an open letter shared with The Telegraph, the charities claim that “there are clearly inconsistencies in how RSE is being delivered across the country, leaving it unable to have the nationwide impact it needs to”.
“Government promised to do more,” they said. “Urgent action is needed now.”
Concern current education does not go far enough
Currently, relationships education is compulsory in all primary schools in England and relationships and sex education compulsory in all secondary schools. However, charities and campaigners have long argued this does not go far enough.
The coalition of charities is calling for: a renewed commitment to RSE delivery, all pupils to learn about consent, guidance to be published to help schools address sexual harassment and abuse, and for more training to be provided for teachers.
Their calls come after new research by Girlguiding and CHILDWISE revealed that only around a third (36 per cent) of 11- to 17-year-olds say that they learnt about consent at school this year. This figure drops further in areas of high deprivation (33 per cent).
Ofsted also published a damning report which concluded that 93 per cent of girls experienced sexual harassment at school from other students. The regulator said that a culture change was needed in schools and colleges to tackle sexual harassment, which had become “normalised”.
At the time, Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of education, described the review as “alarming” and said that many children, particularly girls, “feel they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up”.
She also called for schools to “maintain the right culture in their corridors and they can provide RSHE that reflects reality and equips young people with the information they need”.
The open letter – whose signatories also include the End Violence Against Women Coalition, British Youth Council, Rape Crisis and Refuge – continues: “In 2015 our sexual harassment in schools campaign called for mandatory RSE.
“And in 2017, we celebrated a turning point when the Government announced it would be made compulsory in England, becoming officially statutory from 1 September 2020.
“We understand that the pandemic delayed the embedding of RSE, however, this is having real consequences for young people’s safety and wellbeing.
“We want schools to be safe spaces where pupils are free to learn. Creating environments in which all children and young people can get the information they need to learn about sex, relationships, and the importance of consent.”
‘Comprehensive RSE is vital’
It adds: “We believe that comprehensive RSE is vital in the prevention of sexual harassment, providing it’s taught in an effective and impactful way.
“To allow young people to recognise unacceptable behaviour, RSE must include information and discussion around: sexual consent, healthy relationships and respect, online safety, violence against women and girls and gender stereotypes.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Schools play a critical role in protecting children and keeping them safe. Relationships, sex and health education is now a mandatory part of the curriculum, helping pupils learn about challenging subjects in age-appropriate ways.
“We’ve strengthened guidance for staff so they are more alert to issues impacting their pupils and can create a positive culture in schools where these are tackled – but we know teachers want more practical support to teach sensitive topics relating to sexual harassment, sexual violence and consent.
“We are developing additional guidance that will help them feel confident drawing on a range of research and expertise.”News