Teachers need proper sex education training, warn experts

External speakers should not be used as substitutes for trained teachers under plans to make sex and relationships education compulsory in all schools, subject experts have warned.

From September 2019 it will be compulsory to teach relationships education in all primary schools, and sex and relationships education in all secondary schools. However, there are concerns across the schools community about the level of training teachers will receive.

At a Westminster Education Forum seminar on Thursday, panellists said it was “essential” that teachers be given proper training to run sex and relationships lessons “with accuracy and confidence”.

Lucy Emmerson (pictured far right), co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum, said she has regularly received requests from schools to come and teach sex and relationships education lessons herself because none of their staff have the knowledge to do it.

She warned that outside speakers must not be “a substitute for having trained teachers” and said schools have to take “real care” to make sure advice given by any external party is medically and ethically accurate, rather than based on their “own agenda”.

Teachers with expertise are “essential” to ensure sex education is not “too biological, too embarrassing and plain incorrect”.

Outside speakers must not be a substitute for having trained teachers

“We believe the government need to commit a quantifiable resource to teacher training,” she said.

Laura Foley is lead teacher in personal, social, health and economics education at the Hodgson Academy in Lancashire, where she has overhauled the curriculum to ensure one hour compulsory PSHE sessions a week for every pupil.

She believes it is important to bring in external speakers to address students during sessions, but argued it is more so that they are of “good quality”.

Sarah Hannafin, a senior policy adviser at the National Association of Head Teachers, said that just half of the teachers surveyed by her union reported that sex education is being taught by trained staff in their schools.

Panellists also worry about what will be taught in the sessions. Professor Vanita Sundaram, from the University of York’s education department, said sex and relationships education currently focuses too much on heterosexual relationships, reproduction and the risks of sex, rather than challenging stereotypes and teaching young people about consent.

Josh Bradlow, a policy officer at Stonewall, said primary schools should be teaching students about LGBT families. Secondary schools should, he said, include lessons on gender identity and provide advice about health clinics and LGBT services.

However, Sandra Teacher, an education consultant at the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said it was important that sex and relationships education is “age and religion appropriate”. She said primary schools should focus on teaching tolerance, friendship and the “importance of strong family relationships, including traditional marriage”.

She wants parents to have the right to withdraw their child from a lesson and teach sex and relationships in a way that is more “consistent with their values”, and insisted they be involved in designing the curriculum.

“We need to consider traditional families in the heart of what we do,” she said.

But others, including panel chair Lord Storey, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson in the House of Lords, argued that parents should not be allowed to withdraw their children from any lessons on religious or moral grounds.

The Department for Education’s consultation on the new sex and relationships education curriculum will close on February 12.

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