Pupils could be taught the new curriculum from September 2019, the DfE said. In an interview with the BBC, Ms Greening remarked,”At the moment, many schools teach sex and relationships education… But it’s not mandatory, and, therefore, for many children, they are not coming out of our schools really being equipped to deal with the modern world or indeed being safe and protected from some of the very modern challenges that young people face on cyber-bullying and sexting… What we’re introducing today is mandatory relationship and sex education in all secondary schools, but also mandatory relationship education in primary schools as well… And, of course, in all of this, it’s important everything is age-appropriate and, of course, it’s also important to retain, for sex education, a parent’s right to withdraw their child.”
The wording for primary sex education has been expressed as ‘relationship education’ to reflect its focus, but one should be clear that the sexual element has not been removed but merely reframed. So should this move receive our blessing or not? Given the seeming leap in child abuse cases ( I suspect technology has made it more apparent) is it incumbent upon us to give our children, however young, the tools to recognise and defend themselves against potentially inappropriate behaviour or are we yielding to the hysteria of our age…the notion that the pedophile lurks behind every corner? Furthermore, can we teach this in a way that doesn’t compromise our child’s relationship with the adult world? Can this even be done within the confines of a classroom or does such a space, one perhaps in which the child feels less able to question and discuss what is being said to them, lend itself to internal misrepresentation? If so, what consequences would this have for the child and the parents? Is this issue better left to those who best know that child and can decide when that ‘appropriate’ moment might be?
The complexity of this issue is underscored by the chief executive of Christian Concern whom in an interview with the BBC remarked, “Children need to be protected, and certainly when they’re [still at primary school], we need to be guarding their innocence… We need to be protecting them from things, working with parents to ensure that what they might need to know – which will be different for every child, different in every context across the country – is properly looked at… But this is something that should be individualised, not something that the state can deliver wholesale.”
The idea that every context is different, every situation must be individualised does not sound like one that is deliverable by the state. In fact it sounds a lot like an argument for the status quo in which parents continue in this role. This is certainly an emotive issue. The Safe at School Campaign, run by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, described the announcement as a “tragedy”. National co-ordinator Antonia Tully said, “Parents will be absolutely powerless to protect their children from presentations of sexual activity, which we know is part of many sex education teaching resources for primary school children…The state simply cannot safeguard children in the same way that parents can. This proposal is sending a huge message to parents that they are unfit to teach their own children about sex.”