Guest Blog from the Family Planning Association
Children and young people learn about sex and relationships from a variety of sources, both formal and informal – from parents, health professionals and teachers, to friends in the playground and a vast array of media outlets.
Unfortunately these sources can vary in their accuracy and not only are many children given misinformation; sometimes images or messaging can cause confusion and distress.
While the term ‘sex and relationships education’ can be daunting for parents and teachers, particularly for teachers if they have not had any specialist training, evidence supports the principle of starting age-appropriate SRE from age five.
Research repeatedly shows older pupils reflect on their own SRE as starting too late, with too much focus on biology and bypassing the real-life context of sex, sexual health and relationships.
Ofsted reinforced this in its 2013 Not yet good enough report and the Department for Education has emphasised the statutory requirement to provide a balanced and broad school curriculum, and the need for SRE throughout all key stages. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have all publicly stated the importance of SRE.
We know that teachers want to deliver accurate, informative and useful SRE, and help pupils to make the transition through puberty, adolescence and into adulthood, but that sometimes they lack the confidence to tackle the issues involved and aren’t equipped with specialist knowledge.
Equally, through our Speakeasy course, we know that parents want the best for their children; to help them develop the necessary skills to successfully navigate all different kinds of relationships. But often, especially if they didn’t have particularly good SRE themselves, it can be a difficult process and many are embarrassed or unsure about where to start and what to say.
In fact, parents on our Speakeasy courses have told us they were surprised at how little is contained within the elements of SRE that is taught in schools – and that they expect schools to be doing much more to prepare young people for life ahead.
SRE is most beneficial as a lifelong process starting in early childhood, with information – from both parents and schools – that equips them with the capacity to gradually develop the skills and values they need to explore, develop and express themselves within relationships.
This should be based on qualities such as mutual respect, trust, negotiation and enjoyment.
Specifically at primary-age when we talk about SRE, we mean learning about topics such as our bodies, life cycles, keeping safe, feelings, relationships and celebrating difference – for example challenging stereotypes around gender and sexuality.
And it’s important to prepare children for puberty – before it happens – so they can be ready for the changes they will face. We can take it for granted that it can be a worrying time for children, intensified if they aren’t given information about things like periods and wet dreams before they happen.
Making the link between relationships and other aspects of health and wellbeing is also essential, for example talking about body image, resilience and self-esteem. Children need to know how to keep safe both in real life situations and online, for example when talking to strangers, and using new technology and the internet safely.
Sadly it’s still a common myth that talking about sex and relationships will encourage young people to have sex. Research has shown that good SRE, especially when linked to confidential advice services, can actually have a positive impact on pupils’ health outcomes, such as increased use of contraception and delay in the onset of sexual activity.
The latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, involving over 15,000 participants and published last year, further highlighted the effectiveness of SRE in reducing teenage pregnancy.
When discussion of sex and relationships is normalised from the beginning of a child’s education we stand a much better chance of helping young people to experience healthy and happy relationships as they grow, and stay safe from harm.
Young people deserve nothing less than a solid foundation to equip them with the knowledge and skills to achieve the healthy and happy relationships we all wish for in life.
For more information on FPA resources for teaching SRE, visit