There is a petition doing the rounds, collecting signatures in connection with Relationship and Sex Education, set to become mandatory in 2020. The petition asks that parents be allowed to decide for themselves whether their children be taught RSE at school, or if they would like their children to sit out of these classes altogether. I’ve had it shared with me four times today, by parents of differing religious levels and from various schools, but all of whom have children at Jewish schools in London.
The party line seems to be that parents know their children better, understand what they need in more depth, and should have the final decision as to what they need to know around sex and relationships.
The first point that stands out to me is that some parents don’t know what their children need as well as they think they might. If you grew up in a sheltered environment, you may not realise the dangers and realities for today’s children. On the contrary, if you grew up un-sheltered, you may not be aware of how little your children understand in comparison to what you did at that age. Unhealthy relationships can form at any age, and you’re not with your child 100% of the time, so why not give them the skills and education to recognise and speak up when something isn’t right?
One in 20 children in the UK has been sexually abused, over 90% by someone they know. In many cases, this is the parents themselves, the same people who the signers of this petition believe have the kids best interests at heart. I call this line of thinking naive at best, and dangerous at worst. Of course, the majority of us would never hurt our children intentionally, but for those who do – being able to opt out of RSE means that their children may never learn the language or even the understanding to speak up when something is terribly wrong behind closed doors.
By making this a religious issue, we’re giving sexual predators a reasonable excuse to hide behind when they politely decline on behalf of these children. By pretending that there is any difference to these frightening statistics within our religious bubble, we’re sticking our heads in the sand and doing all of our kids a disservice.
We live in a world with so many unknown dangers. We provide our children with helmets and kneepads and road safety lessons. We give them rules for what to do when they’re being bullied, or how to speak up when something is unfair or unjust. If your child cuts themselves – they know to get a plaster, if they have a headache, they understand how to ask for Calpol or take a lie down.
The move to make RSE mandatory for all children is a way to ensure that our kids have all the tools and words they need to speak up when something is posing a danger to their emotional, mental or physical wellbeing. To recognise that their body is their own and they get final say over what they do with it. Just as importantly, to recognise that other people’s bodies are their own and that they need to respect that, too. These lessons of kindness and consent, in an age-appropriate way, not only keep them safe – but allow them to grow into open and communicative adults who can form intimate and loving relationships, not just with a future spouse but with friends and family too.
For anyone who has been sent the petition, and is considering signing it, I would urge you to look below at the suggestions from the Department of Education as to what these mandatory RSE lessons will cover.
-Different types of relationships, including friendships, family relationships, dealing with strangers and, at secondary school, intimate relationships;
– How to recognise, understand and build healthy relationships, including self-respect and respect for others, commitment, tolerance, boundaries and consent, and how to manage conflict, and also how to recognise unhealthy relationships;
– How relationships may affect health and wellbeing, including mental health;
– Healthy relationships and safety online;
– Factual knowledge, at secondary school, around sex, sexual health and sexuality, set firmly within the context of relationships.
Many might argue that it shouldn’t affect me or anyone else if their child doesn’t take part in these lessons. I couldn’t disagree more. Creating a culture in our schools where we can use religion or any other excuse under the sun to opt out of essential education for our children’s wellbeing is dangerous. It means there is a subsection of our schools that aren’t being taught how to speak up for themselves or others, or how to treat their peers with respect in line with today’s emotional understanding. And that’s everyone’s concern.