Girl guides are calling for the Minister of Education to introduce compulsory classes because sexual harassment in school corridors has been “normalized”.
A coalition of women’s, youth and anti-violence charities – led by Girlguiding – have written to Gillian Keegan to demand full education on relationships, sex education and the importance of consent.
They accuse the government of failing to include relationships and sex education (RSE) in the curriculum after repeated delays during the pandemic, and claim schools are not currently “safe places for students to study freely”.
In an open letter to The Telegraph, the charities claim that “there are clear inconsistencies in the way RSE is delivered across the country, leaving it unable to make the nationwide impact it needs”.
“The government has promised to do more,” they said. “Urgent action is now required.”
The current concern does not go far enough
Currently, relationship education is compulsory in all primary schools in England and relationship and sex education is compulsory in all secondary schools. However, charities and activists have long argued that this does not go far enough.
The coalition of charities is calling for: a renewed commitment to providing RSE, all students needing to learn more about consent, the release of guidelines to help schools tackle sexual harassment and abuse, and more training for teachers.
Her calls come after new research from Girlguiding and CHILDWISE found only about a third (36 percent) of 11-17 year olds say they learned about consent in school that year. This number falls further in areas of high deprivation (33 percent).
Ofsted also published a damning report that concluded that 93 percent of girls at school experienced sexual harassment from other students. The regulator said a culture shift was needed in schools and colleges to tackle sexual harassment, which has “become normal”.
At the time, Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of education, called the review “alarming” and said many children, especially girls, “feel like they have to accept sexual harassment as a part of growing up.”
She also called on schools to “maintain the right culture in their corridors and they can provide RSHE that reflect reality and equip young people with the information they need”.
The open letter – which also signed the End Violence Against Women Coalition, the British Youth Council, Rape Crisis and Refuge – continues: “In 2015, our campaign against sexual harassment in schools called for mandatory RSE.
“And in 2017 we celebrated a turning point when the Government announced it would be mandatory in England and officially a legal requirement from 1 September 2020.
“We understand that the pandemic has delayed the embedding of RSE, but this has real implications for the safety and well-being of young people.
“We want schools to be safe places where students can learn freely. Creating environments where all children and young people receive the information they need to learn about sex, relationships and the importance of consent.”
“Comprehensive RSE is crucial”
It adds: “We believe that comprehensive RSE is vital to preventing sexual harassment, provided it is taught in an effective and impactful way.
“In order for young people to recognize unacceptable behavior, RSE must include information and discussion on the following topics: sexual consent, healthy relationships and respect, online safety, violence against women and girls, and gender stereotypes.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education said: “Schools play a crucial role in keeping children safe and secure. Relationship, sex and health education are now a mandatory part of the curriculum, helping students learn about challenging topics in an age-appropriate way.
“We have improved guidance for staff so they can be more alert to issues affecting their students and create a positive culture in schools where these are addressed – but we know teachers want more practical support to address sensitive issues To teach and consent to issues related to sexual harassment and sexual violence.
‘We are developing additional guidance to help them feel confident drawing on a range of research and expertise.’