Why we need better SRE now

As part of their campaign to end sexual harassment in schools, our advocates are calling for better Sex and Relationships Education. Advocate Charlotte Forester explains why improving SRE is vital in order to make the world a safer place for girls

Charlotte Forester, advocate
21 September 2016

If you speak to any A-level student right now, they will probably find a way to offload to you how much they are drowning in work.

I’ve just started Year 13 at the school I’ve been attending since I was 11 - and sure enough, it seems like my classmates and I are under a pretty immense amount of pressure.

But for thousands of girls and young women across the UK, there’s another hidden pressure they’re having to manage – sexual harassment. Three in five girls and young women across the UK say they’ve experienced sexual harassment at school or college, including sexual taunts and unwanted touching.

This needs urgent action. I’m a member of the Girlguiding Advocate Panel - a group of young women aged 14 to 25 who campaign for the voices and rights of young women in the UK. We have launched our campaign to call on education ministers to tackle sexual harassment, because we know this affects girls all across the UK on a day-to-day basis.

We want to see:

  • a duty for all schools to prevent and tackle sexual harassment and be held accountable 
  • national guidance to ensure schools know how to take a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment
  • compulsory, high-quality Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in all schools, covering consent, online abuse, gender equality and healthy relationships.

We think it is a necessity that young people are well informed about sex and relationships – so we can make safe and responsible decisions about our own bodies and lives.

Help girls make positive choices

Some people argue that teaching young people about sex and relationships is not appropriate - but I disagree. If you want to positively influence the minds of young people, then the most effective way is through education.

Only the biological aspects of sex education and teaching about sexually transmitted diseases are compulsory – but we need the relationships aspects of SRE like sexual consent, respect and gender equality  to be compulsory too.

We know that many children and young people are viewing pornography at a really young age – even when they don’t want to - and unfortunately this is often how they are learning about sex and relationships.

If we provide lessons for students about the relationship aspects of SRE - that includes LGTBQ individuals– then we can start to address issues around sexual harassment and sexual violence in school and all young people will be able to make positive choices and take control of their sexual health and relationships.

Listen to the girls!

Sadly, we’re not there yet.

According to our 2015 Girls' Attitudes Survey only 49% of girls aged 11 to 16 say they are taught what consent means – even though 84% of girls feel that education on this subject is vital. This means that young girls don’t feel as though their schools are delivering a suitable syllabus for them.

Even though SRE is generally not being taught well enough, teenage girls are particularly left out. In my experience many schools do not cover topics like menstruation in depth - unless they’re being discussed in a biology lesson. If girls don’t get proper, relevant education on how their bodies work, they won’t have a robust understanding of their own anatomy.

Helping a range of young people

This is without considering young people with more specific needs. 

Even if sex education is available at a school, young people exploring their gender identity and/or sexual orientation are not receiving enough information or support. This can result in feelings of guilt and confusion.

More thinking also needs to be put into how young people with additional needs and disabilities negotiate consent and sex – and how we can include them in SRE. If schools aren't having these discussions, young people will search for answers elsewhere – often from unreliable online sources and unfortunately porn, or by entering unsafe situations where they might come to harm.

How you can take action

The Government needs to ensure that high quality Sex and Relationships Education is a compulsory  part of school education and covers topics like consent and gender equality. If there isn't any legislation in place, then there is no enforcement.

Girlguiding Advocates’ campaign is hoping to make this change - but we really need your support to make sure this happens. Sign our petition and join in the conversation on social media, by using the hashtag #sexualharassmentinschools and tagging @Girlguiding.

Young people deserve better, so we need to demand better. 

Sign the petition

Support the Advocates’ call – so no girl has to experience harassment when she is trying to learn.