Government announces compulsory Relationships & Sex Education in all schools

Compulsory ‘RSE’ could help end harassment of girls in school and challenge excuses for abuse in the long term.

Houses of parliament

The End Violence Against Women Coalition welcomes the announcement by Education Secretary Justine Greening today (1 March) that Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) is to be made compulsory in all schools.

Co-Director of the EVAW Coalition, Rachel Krys said:

“The EVAW Coalition and our members, who do frontline work supporting victims of abuse, have campaigned for compulsory RSE for all young people for many years because we know that establishing healthy attitudes to sex and relationships at a young age is one of the best ways to try to prevent abuse in the long term.

“The need for RSE for all children and young people has become urgent because of what we know about abuse and harassment in young people’s lives – including girls and young women being disproportionately subjected to relationship abuse, sexual violence and harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse online. The rapid development of smart phones, social media and online porn make the need for compulsory RSE more urgent than ever.

“This is a real step forward in ending violence against women and girls and we commend the Government for listening to experts and responding.

Our research shows that girls face intolerable levels of harassment in schools on a daily basis. Access to pornography while at school is commonplace and nude images are traded like football stickers. Outside the classroom, abuse of women and girls continues at alarming rates in our society: two women are killed each week by partners or former partners, almost half a million rapes and sexual assaults happen each year in England and Wales, and over 137,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM [3].

High quality RSE, which gives young people the chance to talk about attitudes to consent, respect and LGBT equality, is a chance to have the conversations about how men and women should treat each other, and to challenge the attitudes which excuse or minimise abuse and ultimately help drive everything from harassment in schools to horrific violent crime.”

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said:

Thousands of girls have reported experiences to the Everyday Sexism Project of being sexually harassed, assaulted and even raped whilst at school. From being rated out of 10 in the school corridor to being ‘groped’ in the classroom, such behaviour has become so commonplace that many describe it as the norm. Against a backdrop of often misogynistic online pornography, we hear again and again from young people who are confused about sex and sexual violence, with comments like ‘rape is a compliment really’ or ‘it’s not rape if she enjoys it’ coming up in our discussions with young people in schools. After many years of campaigning, we are delighted that young people will now receive the information they need to understand abuse, respect others, and navigate healthy relationships.”

The EVAW Coalition is calling for children and young people to be given age appropriate lessons about all forms of violence against women and girls, and the misogyny which drives this violence, so that they are able to recognise and challenge it. This should be supported by training for teachers and a review of safeguarding measures to ensure that whenever children and young people disclose abuse there is support.

Rachel Krys continued: 

“We look forward to working with the government to develop the detailed guidance. We need to make sure that what is delivered in schools is evidence based and high quality, reflecting all we know about how and why abuse happens and what can help prevent it. We hope to see specific guidance requiring schools to tackle the endemic sexual harassment girls in schools are dealing with and a better response to sexual assaults in schools, as recommended by the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry into this last Autumn.”

Doireann Larkin, Development Manager at Tender, EVAW Coalition member and charity working with children in schools to promote healthy relationships said:

“We’re really pleased with today’s announcement. We talk to young girls every day about the pressures and harassment they face at school, and finally the Government is taking steps to address this. We know it will have a significant impact inside and outside the classroom.”

Notes to Editors

  • The government announcement follows EVAW’s joint Valentine’s Day letter to the Secretary of State for Education, signed by a raft of women’s organisations and politicians from across the political spectrum, which called for urgent legislation to protect children.
  • A change.org petition started by EVAW and the Everyday Sexism Project calling for statutory Sex and Relationships Education has almost 50,000 signatures.
  • The government announcement responds to overwhelming evidence presented to the Equalities Select Committee in September 2016 about levels of harassment in schools. The inquiry heard that 59% of girls and young women aged 13–21 had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college. Since then MPs of all parties have been pressing for change.
  • Repeated polls also demonstrate that parents want to see change. Plan International’s 2017 survey of 2,000 adults revealed that 86% think sexual consent should be part of the curriculum, while 81% think the lessons should cover abuse and violence in relationships.

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