SREnow Campaign


What are the barriers to compulsory SRE?

  • In the past there has been resistance to SRE, perhaps because of fear that explicit material would be shared with young children. This is categorically not what this petition is calling for. We believe that issues such as consent and healthy relationships should be a compulsory part of the curriculum from primary school level, but that it is absolutely possible to teach these topics in a simple, age-appropriate way. It is also important to recognise that many young people are already exposed to explicit material, which brings with it many confusing and negative messages. A recent BBC survey  revealed that a quarter of 12-year olds and 60% of 14-year olds had seen online pornography. Given that the majority of young people are already exposed to this content, which is often misogynistic and even violent, it is vital to reinforce positive, respectful, healthy relationships in school.

  • Some people have expressed fears  that SRE could lead to higher teenage pregnancy rates. In reality, national and international research  has shown that young people who have had good quality SRE are more likely to delay having sex for the first time until later, and more likely to use condoms and contraception. There is no evidence that SRE hastens first experiences of sex.

  • Another argument is that sex and relationships are a private matter and it should be left to parents to teach young people about these topics. But, while it is great that some parents do discuss these issues with their children, we know that not all do, and many express feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed, or not knowing how to broach the topic. Furthermore, some children  may already be experiencing sexual abuse within the home, and 750,000 children  a year witness domestic violence, which means that those most in need of this information are less likely to receive it outside the classroom. Every child deserves simple, clear information about their rights, consent, and healthy relationships. It’s too important to leave to chance. Given that topics like healthy eating are included on the curriculum, it follows that a similarly universal issue like SRE should also be addressed at school.

What exactly do schools have to teach at present?

  • Currently schools are only required to teach young people the biological basics of reproduction by age 15; there is no requirement to go further than this and ensure classes include discussion on sex in the context of relationships or the law on consent or many other issues that young people face today - such as teen relationship abuse, sexting and the easy availability of pornography especially on mobile devices. And they can cover the basic requirements in any subject they like - for example, faith schools commonly deliver this information as part of Religious Education. Parents are permitted to withdraw their children from any classes schools do run on sex and relationships. Heads and governors can choose to implement high quality PSHE and invest in trained teachers, but there is no requirement to do so.

  • Experiences of SRE can be particularly negative for LGBT young people. A new report  published last month by the Terrence Higgins Trust revealed that 95% of young people were not taught about LGBT relationships in SRE and 97% had no discussion about gender identity.

What age do you think should SRE start?

  • We believe that issues such as consent and healthy relationships should be a compulsory part of the curriculum from primary school level, but that it is absolutely possible to teach these topics in a simple, age-appropriate way. At a very young age, SRE is simply about privacy, and respecting every person’s rights over their own body. We already talk to very young children about treating friends and carers with respect and kindness, and SRE at this age would involve very similar messages. No child is too young for these conversations. You would stop a young child hitting, bullying, or name-calling and tell them why it’s wrong, and you’d have a school or nursery ethos designed to foster different behaviour. How boys and girls behave towards one another belongs in the same category of basic education about respect.

Do you think parents should be able to withdraw their children from SRE classes?

  • This is a tricky question for many but we do not believe parents should be permitted to do so – young people have a human right to this information and to be protected. In some cases children are most at risk at home in the family – we need to ensure all young people get to hear about how to identify abuse and learn that they can seek support and will be believed.

Do you think faith schools should be forced to do SRE lessons?

  • Again, this is difficult for some people but we do believe that SRE should be compulsory in all schools.  This does not mean being “prescriptive”; we know that well-trained teachers actually find the best ways of getting accurate information across and, critically, of listening to young people and finding out what they want to know. This isn’t about prescription, it’s about an important dialogue with young people.

Who should teach these classes? What kind of training should they have?

  • Well trained teachers (e.g. PSHE teachers) and outside organisations can provide excellent options. We believe that in order for compulsory SRE to be implemented successfully it must go alongside improved teacher training on child protection and on all forms of violence against women and girls, so that teachers are more enabled to understand, to detect warning signs and to respond to individual disclosures of abuse or to abusive behaviour such as sexual harassment in the classroom; this training should be improved at initial vocational training and ongoing CPD level.

What about men and boys?

  • Although sexual and domestic violence are problems that disproportionately impact women and girls, we know that many men and boys also experience rape, sexual assault and childhood abuse. Around 12,000 men are raped and 72,000 sexually assaulted each year  and the British Crime survey  revealed that 6% of boys aged 16-19 experience abuse from a partner each year. There is a particular societal stigma attached to men reporting abuse, which means that it is very important that boys learn these things are wrong, that support is available and that they can speak out. Explicit and often negative messages about sex and relationships from sources like online pornography can be extremely distressing and confusing for boys and young men as well as girls. We believe that compulsory teaching about sexual consent, online pornography and healthy and respectful relationships will have a positive outcome for young people of all genders. Rather than the old-fashioned, stereotypical notions that ‘boys will be boys’ and it is a woman’s ‘duty’ to say ‘no’ to sex, we believe that all young people, regardless of gender, should be taught to seek clear, affirmative consent and to act with respect in relationships.

Is SRE enough given the problems you describe?

  • That’s a good question, and it isn’t a silver-bullet to solve every problem facing women and girls. But every expert says it’s where we have to start. Delivering good SRE to every child will provide each generation with the information they deserve about their rights to their own bodies, as well as instilling the message of respectful, healthy relationships in every child. Compulsory SRE is also likely to increase disclosures of abuse - teachers need to be trained to respond to this and support needs to be there for survivors as well as adequate interventions for boys who are at risk of abusing.​ For this reason, close links between schools and local women's specialist services are extremely important. Girls who experience sexual violence may drop out of school unless they are given the right support as soon as they report.

  • Many of the necessary measures to tackle sexual violence and violence against women in our society require a shift in culturally acceptable stereotypes, and normalised attitudes and behaviours towards women. It is very difficult to enact this culture shift, but teaching every young person basic information about consent and healthy relationships would be a hugely positive and efficient place to start.