Sex education is failing pupils

November 24, 2016 23:06

As far as I am concerned, it is time to talk about sex.

Earlier this year, David Cameron announced his plans to tackle the ubiquity of porn. According to him, porn is "corroding childhood" - something he wants to change by having internet providers to UK homes block pornography, unless the homeowner specifically opts in to view adult content.

But recently leaked documents from the Council of the European Union suggest that the only "block" to his plans is coming from Brussels, which opposes his measures.

All this, in my opinion, brings into sharp focus the ineffectiveness of sex and relationships education (SRE). These days, porn is so readily accessible that it is said to be the main source of sex education for young people, even though all schools, including faith schools, have to teach SRE.

According to a report released by the National Union of Students (NUS), porn is a standard part of young people's lives.

The survey, which questioned 2,500 students, reflected the dire state of SRE being taught in classrooms.

Only a third of participants believed SRE equipped them for real life and 60 per cent said that they have used porn to find out more about sex. Most respondents agreed that porn sets "unrealistic expectations". If teens are having to turn to their screens for their sex education, and porn is far from an educative source, then it is clear the system is failing.

In 2013, Ofsted reported that sex education in 40 per cent of schools was in need of improvement. Surely good quality information delivered in an expert way is needed to offset the corrosive influence of porn.

A 2014 YouGov poll for the JC showed that 82 per cent of the population believe that state-funded faith schools should not be allowed to opt out of any form of sex education. But this requirement is a challenge for strictly orthodox schools, who may choose to be private or become academies if they feel they cannot teach SRE in the way that the National Curriculum demands.

SRE at my Jewish school, JFS in Kenton, was delivered by visiting charities and our science teachers. They covered sexually transmitted infections, so I know all about chlamydia. But issues of consent, same-sex relationships and gender identity were not covered.

Watching condoms put on bananas in primary school left me with a banana phobia, but none the wiser about contraception. And once in secondary school, there was an inadequate run-through of different contraception. This is surprising, given that the YouGov poll showed that 69 per cent of participants would advocate teaching secondary school pupils about contraception, compared to 27 per cent who think this should be addressed in primary school.

Turning the community's attention to SRE, Streetwise - a partnership scheme between CST and Maccabi GB - was set up to offer SRE to 20 Jewish primary and secondary schools.

In 2014, the initiative offered SRE sessions to more than 6,000 Jewish students across the UK, ranging from cross-communal JCoss to the orthodox Hasmonean High School.

Nathan Servi, Streetwise manager, said: "SRE is very arbitrary, with the government giving loose guidelines. Jewish schools have a very individual approach to what is and isn't taught." This is most apparent in the schools' approaches to sexual health and contraception, with only JCoSS currently offering condom demonstrations to sixth-formers.

Mr Cameron's determination to limit access to porn in the home is very welcome. He is right that young people need to be shielded from its damaging effects.

But the nature of sex education also needs to change. It needs to be less awkward and ineffective, and not dodge difficult questions about sexuality - even in Jewish schools.

The ubiquitous, sleazy world of porn alone will not provide us with a sufficient education.

Emma Jacobs, 17, is currently sitting her AS exams in English Literature, Religious Studies, Politics and Photography at JFS.

November 24, 2016 23:06

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