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The sex and relationship education needs of young people: a review of research and school survey findings by Coram Life Education & Ecclesiastical

July 28, 2017

MOST schools want more help and support in teaching sex and rela­tionships, according to this report.

It estimates that two-thirds of schools would like more guidance on statutory requirements, and three-quarters want more advice on how to consult parents.

In 2019, sex and relationships education (SRE) will become man­datory in all primary and secondary schools. At present it is compulsory only for schools run by local councils; academies or free schools are free to ignore the national curri­culum.

Coram and Ecclesiastical con­sulted 85 head teachers, PSHE co­ordinators, and SRE teachers for the report, which was launched last week in the House of Lords.

Among the findings, the biggest issue teachers said that they faced was how to manage “friendship issues”; one teacher in three wanted more help to identify what children needed to learn from SRE; and teachers felt least confident when covering puberty, reproduction, stay­ing safe, and consent

I used to teach ‘PSE’ and this report backs up my hunches – and also those of a colleague who has been working in church schools and nationally on specific Anglican concerns.

An open letter has been sent to The Guardian, praising the Gov­ernment for making SRE com­pulsory, and calling for guidance on abortion, LGBT equality, and con­traception to be included in the lessons. Among the signatories are Christian and other faith leaders, including the Bishop of Bucking­ham, Dr Alan Wilson; the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John; the Revd Steve Chalke, a Bap­tist minister; and the former Bishops of Worcester and Bolton.

“It is essential that the SRE that schools provide is accurate, balanced and promotes an acceptance of diversity,” the letter states. “We therefore urge that new statutory guidance on schools’ teaching of RSE should require them to actively promote the acceptance of LGBT people, and provide, for pupils of sufficient maturity, factual infor­mation about contraception and abortion.”

Coram and Ecclesiastical have launched a new set of lesson plans, resources, and teacher guides based on the DfE’s recommendations for SRE. About 200,000 children already being taught Coram’s programme will benefit from it from September.

The managing director of the charity’s education programmes, Harriet Gill, said: “Only four years ago, Ofsted stated that primary schools were ‘leaving pupils ill-prepared for physical and emotional changes during puberty often experienced before children reach secondary school’.

“We believe this programme is an important step forward.”

There’s even a scheme of work.

The charity was established by Thomas Coram as the Foundling Hospital, London’s first home for babies whose mothers were unable to care for them.

When Captain Coram returned from sea in 1720 he was shocked to see children abandoned or dying on London’s streets. The only option for women who had children born out of wedlock with no means to support them was to be placed in a parish poorhouse, with high mortality rates. Thomas Coram began a campaign to create a home for these babies, overcoming widespread prejudice about children born outside of marriage, by enlisting the support of leading members of the aristocracy, the City, the arts and the sciences though a series of petitions.

The charity evolved to begin pioneering work in adoption, early years and parenting from our original London site. The Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, today known as Coram, developed new approaches to childcare and education, informed by developments in child psychiatry which highlighted the importance of children’s emotional wellbeing and need for secure family placement.


It is vital that SRE starts early as children are naturally curious about their bodies, where they came from, and growing up. They will often absorb information about sex and relationships even if no-one talks about it with them, and 1 in 4 girls start their periods before learning about it at school. Children’s questions need to be answered honestly in an age appropriate way in order to avoid confusion and shame, develop identity, respect, personal boundaries and feel able to seek help.

Children’s rights to education, information, and health services are enshrined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

A statistical-analysis of 75 recent studies found that such interventions led to increases in social skills and overall beneficial effects on seven key outcomes including: academic achievement, substance abuse, social skills, positive self-image,

anti-social behavior, mental health, and pro-social behavior. Research also demonstrates the link between wellbeing and improvements in attendance and attainment rates, particularly for those eligible for free school meals and pupils who had been performing at below the national average in Maths and English

interventions to tackle emotional learning are cost saving in the first year through reductions in social service, NHS and criminal justice system costs and have recouped £50 for every £1 spent. Drug and alcohol interventions can also help young people engage in education, employment and training, bringing a total lifetime benefit of up to £159 million

SRE needs to be inclusive. Some young people in specific groups may feel excluded in SRE sessions. These may include:

  • Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender students (who make up around 10% of any school population) who often report that SRE is solely about heterosexual relationships;
  • Students with physical or learning disabilities; and
  • Boys, who may feel excluded as they see SRE as aimed more at girls and they are often anxious about being ‘shown up’ as ignorant about sexual matters

Teaching without embarrassment – 86% wanted an SRE teacher who was not embarrassed to answer any question asked by a pupil in the lesson. This is because 79% said SRE lessons were a chance to ask questions they couldn’t ask at home;

In everyday language – 83% wanted SRE teachers to talk using everyday language they understand;

Input into SRE lessons – 82% wanted schools to listen to what they wanted when deciding what is covered in SRE;

Training for teachers – 76% thought the teacher taking SRE should be specifically trained; and

Delivered in smaller groups – 55% wanted SRE taught in small groups rather than a whole class together, although only 33% thought boys and girls should be taught SRE separately

It’s online here

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