Tuesday, 25 June 2013

My MP doesn't explain why he opposes teaching consent in SRE

On the 11th of June the commons voted against making Sex and Relationship Education a compulsory part of the national curriculum and specifically this amendment including the following
"(1) For the purposes of this Part, personal, social and health education (“PSHE”) shall include
sex and relationship education, including information about same-sex relationships, sexual
violence, domestic violence and sexual consent. "
My MP for Chester, Stephen Mosley was one of the MP who voted against this clause. You can read a good briefing on why this clause was so important here by the sex education forum. This was a key opportunity to get SRE into the heart of what schools need to be providing. But MPs voted not to help young people on this issue and my MP was one of those who voted against. If you want to read more about the no vote, what it means and why it matters you can read Brook here or read this blog post exploring how the clause may still have life in it and the process that is needed.

Today I am writing about my experince in trying to ask my MP why he voted no. It started on Twitter
after a few more tweets, I got this reply
Notice how he says "I will reply in depth". So I sent the following email. (Personal details removed)

Dear Stephen, 
My name is Gareth Cheesman, I was the person tweeting you @blindfishideas about you voting against SRE. For your information you may be interested to know I work for a Christian charity called Chester Schools Christian Work. I regularly deliver Sex and Relationship Education lessons in the 6 high schools in Chester, we would go into more if we had more time/money. 
We deliver lessons on everything from Self Esteem, body image, puberty, healthy relationships (we wont work in schools if they do not want the relationship lessons), STIs, HIV, Contraceptives, Sexting, The distortion of the Media (including porn) and other topics by request. The sexting and porn lessons have gained national interest with over 10000 downloads of my lesson plans and interviews by The Times, The Guardian, TES, BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC radio 5 Live and BBC world service.  
We provide lessons for free to schools. Some of the above schools have had staff trained in SRE and found that this training did not give them the confidence to tackle the subjects themselves. Other schools have had no help in meeting the needs. So they have asked us for help. I am happy to explain more about my work if you have any questions. All my lesson plans are open to be viewed at www.SREstuff.com and the NHS supports the work providing free materials for our lessons.  
Please can you explain why you voted against SRE being promoted in the new PSHE curriculum. Why did you think young people across the country did not deserve to be taught about  " same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent." Why should they be denied a chance to learn about these topics? 
Sadly our adult community has so many confusions about sex we can not rely on parents to equip young people to deal with this difficult subject. So why do you not want schools to tackle SRE? 
I look forward to your reply,

Kind Regards

I have put in bold what I consider the core paragraph of my letter. Why did he vote against this clause? I asked on twitter when I should expect a reply he said he aims for within 10 days. 

Yesterday I received a letter from him dated 21st June, exactly 10 days after the vote. Sadly this letter falls short in answering the simple question why did he vote no. The letter goes to great length telling me all the good things the current government has done. Many of these I support and am very thankful for. But they are not an answer to the question why did Stephen Mosley vote against this new clause in the national curriculum. 

Mr Mosley also makes some simple mistakes showing his lack of knowledge on the subject. For example Mr Mosley writes "As you may already know, sex and relationship education (SRE) is compulsory in maintained secondary schools". This shows how uninformed his information is. Some Sex Education topics are statutory within the Science National Curriculum but Sex AND Relationship Education is not afforded the same status. quoting from the Governments own website https://www.gov.uk/national-curriculum/other-compulsory-subjects
Some parts of sex and relationship education are compulsory - these are part of the national curriculum for science. Parents can withdraw their children from all other parts of sex and relationship education if they want.


The Sex Education Forum makes it crystal clear for anyone who makes the effort to do the research. 

The most up-to-date legislation relating to sex and relationships education (SRE) are contained within the Education Act (1996) and the Learning and Skills Act (2000). The requirements are that:
  • It is compulsory for all maintained schools to teach some parts of sex education i.e. the biological aspects of puberty, reproduction and the spread of viruses. These topics are statutory parts of the National Curriculum Science which must be taught to all pupils of primary and secondary age.
  • There is also a separate requirement for secondary schools to teach about HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. 
The government does make strong recommendations to also includes topics such as relationships but they are not given the same importance as HIV. To be clear, I am funded by a HIV charity and think it is key that we teach young people about HIV and devote an entire lesson to this one STI. However, in the UK the HPA believe there are about 96,000 people with HIV, about 0.15% of the population. Yet "almost a third (29%) of 16-18-year-old girls say they have been subjected to unwanted sexual touching at school," (statistic from EVAW) but Stephen Mosley voted against making teaching about "sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent" the same legal requirement as HIV. 

Strangely in the letter Mr Mosley says that "The Government does expect teachers to ensure that all pupils develop an awareness of the issues around physical violence and abuse as a part of SRE". If they Government expects that why not make that explicit in voting yes on this clause? His get out clause is "The Government believes that teacher's professional judgement should be trusted to do so appropriately". I would suggest that with the current Governments focus on Results Results Results few teachers will use their professional judgement to risk their jobs by devoting any time to a non statutory topic. A topic they feel under resourced and under supported to deliver. The fact that schools in Mr Mosley's constituency currently invite outside speakers (me and my team) to cover the statutory aspects, such as HIV, should be a clue. We need to have some statutory requirements if we are serious about helping young people. 


The debate about making SRE truly statutory for all young people (academies, free schools?) will rage on and whilst it is happening young people will suffer from not being given the chance to learn about and discuss these vital issues. 

What is most disappointing is that Mr Mosley did not give an answer to the simple question. Why did you vote no? I grew up watching Yes Minister and reading the letter sounds like a reading a speech by Sir Humphrey Appleby. Wading through the words, statistics, misdirections and self congratulations I find not an answer to a simple question but an attempt to avoid providing an answer. There are legitimate arguments against New Clause 20 but Mr Mosley did not offer a single argument or explanation. He just avoided the question. I am writing to Mr Mosley again today. Hopefully this time if I am concise I may get a concise reply, in 10 days of course. 


Dear Mr Mosley,   
Please can you explain why you vote against New Clause 20 on the 11th June? 
Kind Regards
Gareth Cheesman