Finding a way to prevent children from accessing online pornography will be a challenge – we must make sure children are also receiving evidenced and reliable information.

Amid discussions of concern over the easy access which children have to pornographic images, Google announced last week that it will pay £3 million worth of grants in protection schemes for children. There is also a summit today chaired by culture secretary Maria Miller and organised by Conservative MP Claire Perry, special adviser to David Cameron on children and pornography. These are positive steps to addressing this worrying and growing problem – one which has never been dealt with before and one which rapidly changing technology makes it even harder to deal with. Yet finding an effective solution will be challenging.

Concern of children’s access to online pornography raises wider problems too. For instance, should schools be teaching children about porn in PSHE’s lessons? At the very least, these discussions should serve as a reminder that as more children and younger children are seeing pornographic content, every child deserves access to clear, reliable and evidence based information about sex and relationships.

The recently published Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England and Review of PSHE are largely welcomed by 2020health.

It is fantastic news that three of the recommendations which came out of the Cross Party Inquiry into Unplanned Pregnancy have been taken up by these reports .

1. Focus on Relationships

2. Building young people’s self esteem and resilience

3. Better access to over 25s for LARCS

Yet ‘The Cross Party Inquiry into Unplanned Pregnancy’ which was supported by 2020health called for the government to take decisive action and make Sex and Relationship Education statutory. Standardisation is crucial to ensure equality of access to information and so it is bitterly disappointing that our request, and the request of many many others, for Statutory Sex and Relationship Education will not be implemented.

 The Review of PSHE itself acknowledges that “some respondents felt there was confusion for schools regarding what part of SRE was covered by statutory science and what part was PSHE education and it would better if all aspects were made statutory”. The Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England notes as one of its key ambitions that “all children and young people receive good-quality sex and relationship education”, that they “know how to ask for help, and are able to access confidential advice and support about wellbeing, relationships and sexual health” and that  they “understand consent, sexual consent and issues around abusive relationships.” They also note that “All schools delivering sex and relationship education are required to ensure that their pupils receive high-quality on the importance of good sexual health.” It is not clear why the government did not opt to introduce statutory SRE or how the government plan on achieving the above without statutory SRE.

Our main concern is that the Cross Party Inquiry into Unplanned Pregnancy found that very often staff who provide SRE do not receive training. In the Inquiry report it also recommended that statutory training for teachers should be introduced and wrote the Secretary of State for Education asking that:

“1. Statutory SRE training for teachers should also be introduced so that they are more informed and feel more confident in delivering the subject to pupils.


2. A system of kite-marking for external agencies should be introduced, allowing schools to know which organisations have been assessed and approved as providing appropriate, accurate and evidence-based SRE programmes.”

Neither of these are mentioned in either the Framework for Sexual Policy in England  or Review of PSHE and we have never received a response to the letter.

To date there has never been a consistently applied policy on SRE in England which has meant that children and young people have not received a consistent basic level of education about sex and relationships. There is a worry that this will happen again and that children will continue to receive inadequate education to prepare them for their future lives. The current online child porn publicity only heightens awareness of the need for statutory SRE. Statutory Sex and Relationship education would help children make safe and informed choices and play a role in tackling the public health issues associated with unwanted pregnancy. We also need to remember that Academies are not included in these current proposals and do not have to teach sex education at all.

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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