Equality and respect at the heart of new sex education guidance

(Title Image: BBC News)

Yesterday, the Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), unveiled reforms to sex education following work carried out by an expert panel.

See also: State of Wales – Sex VI: Sex Education

The panel said that while there was good practice at schools across Wales, there was too much focus on biology, with sex and relationships not being put in a wider social context. The Secretary has decided to introduce some of the panel’s recommendations immediately, including:

  • Changing the name of the subject to Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) to sound more inclusive and rounded.
  • Making RSE a statutory (compulsory) subject in state schools; at the moment it’s not a requirement to be taught in primary schools in its own right (i.e. it’s only compulsory as part of science lessons). Talks are ongoing with faith schools.
  • Teaching RSE from age 5 (though in an age-appropriate manner).
  • £250,000 has been provided to identify any additional training needs for teachers (including £50,000 with respect to domestic abuse).

Shadow Education Secretary, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West), believed the public may have concerns about providing sex education to 5-year-olds, particularly in relation to “protecting their innocence”. Nevertheless, he stressed the importance of “tweenagers” being made aware of online dangers but was concerned the whole thing was being rushed.

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) disagreed with Darren’s assessment – his 5-year-old son was already saying “challenging things”. He also questioned the timings involved, as it wasn’t clear precisely when new RSE guidance will be issued. This was later echoed by Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) in relation to age-appropriate domestic abuse teaching material.

Michelle Brown AM (UKIP, North Wales) supported the principle of more modern and inclusive sex education, but echoed Darren Millar’s concerns about 5-year-olds, believing it would over-complicate their childhood. Children develop at different rates and it was a job best left to parents. UKIP doesn’t support sex education being taught to under-11s – to which the Education Secretary replied that many girls were now starting periods before the age of 11.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) pointed to evidence from the Nordic countries that children were less likely to engage in sex at an early age if they have more information, while Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) pointed to a recent committee inquiry on young people’s mental health which said RSE was poorly resourced and given a low priority.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) was impressed by some of the work visiting Third Sector projects were doing in schools, particularly in relation to domestic abuse. He was concerned this new guidance would become an extra “chore” for teachers and wanted assurances such projects would be properly included and involved in the new system.

Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North) supported (in effect) scrapping a parent’s right to withdraw children from sex education lessons, or at the very least encouraging schools to properly explain to those parents with concerns what’s being taught and why.

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) was a little disappointed it’s taken this long to achieve, as this was raised during the passing of the Domestic Violence Act 2015; there needs to be concrete action now not empty rhetoric to challenge stereotypes and promote gender equality.


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