It’s the 21st century and sex education in our schools is too inadequate to cope

The topic of sexual violence in schools has been a frequent visitor to our national headlines over the last few weeks. Recent surveys and reports have shown that sexual violence and harassment in schools is increasing dramatically, and many blame the modern day overuse of social media and easy accessibility to pornography and violent media.

It is the place of parents and educators to help combat this issue through open conversation on the topics of sex. However, we are seeing an increasing failure of our sex education system to deliver the necessary information to tackle modern day sexual violence and its sources. In fact, the government hasn’t updated it’s guidance on sex education in 16 years, and considering the massive technological and social changes that have happened in that time it is shocking that the direction of sex education hasn’t changed accordingly.

In addition to this, sex education is still not compulsory in all UK schools, and in the schools where it is compulsory, parents still have the power to opt their children out of certain parts of it. This lack of a coherent and compulsory curriculum for sex education is disturbing, and has been recently criticised in an inquiry report by the government’s Women and Equalities Committee. The report slammed the Department of Education amongst others for their lack of response to the rising sexual violence and harassment in schools and the lack of coherent guidance for schools and teachers to adhere to in response to such issues.

Furthermore, many cases of sexual assault in schools are not even reported, and sometimes disregarded by teachers as not serious enough to raise questions. But the reality is that girls as young as those in primary school are dealing with sexual harassment on a sometimes daily basis. In fact, it has recently been revealed by Plan International that sex crimes in schools reported to police has trebled in the last four years, from 719 reported in 2011–2012 to 1,955 reported in 2014–2015. This of course doesn’t even go into the number that is unreported and surveys of young people in schools have suggested that this number could also be massive.

Additionally, research conducted by the charity Girlguiding in 2015 has discovered that 81% of girls between the ages 11 and 21 years old reported that in the past week they had experienced some level of sexism. On top of this, around three quarters of all the girls surveyed said they were anxious about sexual harassment and its negative effects on their lives. This anxiety could be caused by their choice of clothing, their body confidence, or the freedom to venture where they like by themselves.

This massive failure of our sex education system has not gone unnoticed by the new education secretary, Justine Greening, and she has recently announced that the issue of compulsory sex education is a top priority. But this promise is not good enough.

Whilst compulsory sex education is necessary in all schools in the UK, there also needs to be a massive rethink of the curriculum and lesson structure of sex education. Sex education should include discussions on modern issues like the impact of social media, pornography, and violent media on body image, consent and sexual relationships. There needs to be discussion on LGBT issues and same-sex relationships. Discussions should be headed by trained teachers or sexual health experts, not embarrassed and uninformed educators. Sex education shouldn’t just include the science of the reproductive system; it should cover issues like sexual assault and harassment, contraception, and the varying types of body shape.

In the 21st century we should not be seeing this increasing level of sexual violence, especially as it is taking root in some schools. With an informative, regular, and compulsory curriculum that encourages frank and open discussion, sex education will most certainly help quell the stigma around sex and encourages young people to talk openly, helping put a stop to the increasing sexual harassment and violence that we are seeing in schools today.