The Netflix series Sex Education may seem pretty far from reality at times; a school of British 17-year-olds talking frankly and openly about their sex lives, asking questions and exploring who they are together and, crucially, with the adults around them.
Why doesn’t this reflect what we see in schools right now?
Well, some of the topics might make teachers and parents feel pretty uncomfortable and ill-equipped to tackle them. So how will our teenagers learn about these subjects unless someone creates a safe space for them to talk about it and ask the awkward questions?
In the wake of the Everyone’s Invited movement, it’s impossible to ignore that there is a problem with rape culture in our schools and in our wider society. Over 51,000 testimonials from people anonymously sharing their story of sexual violence name 10% of all schools and colleges in England have been named.
So where are we going wrong?
As we’ve said, this is a society-wide issue, but we wanted to ask young people to tell us what they think about their experience in school. A whopping 94% polled on Instagram said that SRE classes were not sufficient in preparing them for today’s world. This research was used as part of our event Beyond Everyone’s Invited, to discuss with education leaders how we create genuine change in schools and support teachers to better understand the issues we’re facing.
What did they feel was missing from SRE?
- LGBT sex ed
- Porn vs reality
- Consent training
- Scales of sexual violence
- Micro aggressions
- How to have safe, consensual and pleasurable sex
- How to communicate with your partner
- How to say no
- How to talk to a friend about their behaviour
- How to deal with being a victim of sexual assault
- Better education on STIs
- Gender identity
And what do they think needs to change in schools to make this better?
- The conversation needs to be started at a much younger age, so it stops being taboo
- A safe space to talk about sexual assault
- Less gender specific – don’t need to split boys and girls, they all need to know everything
- Workshops from third parties not just teachers
- Regular open communication not just a one-off class
- Less emphasis on uniform codes/less sexist dress codes (shoulders) – boys and girls should have the same level of scrutiny. Gender neutral uniform.
- Smaller classes so people can talk more freely
- More education for teachers around how to handle it
- Need to have a better understanding of what harassment is – what is acceptable and what is not
- Sexual assault phone number should be more widely known
- Need to shift the blame from women onto the perpetrators
Pretty eye-opening. There’s no denying that every teacher in this country is dealing with so much; talking about masturbation and kinks aren’t going to be top of their agenda when their focus is on navigating the post-covid world, preparing students for exams and keeping their school open. Teachers are being asked to do everything, all of the time. They are doing their utmost to serve their students and their community. They desperately need support and training to tackle this head on – we can’t expect them to be experts on this matter and delivering an effective SRE programme without more help.
There’s a wider issue at play
Yes, we need to be talking specifically about sexual violence, harassment and consent – but we also need to have the conversation around ownership and accountability. Two questions highlighted this:
Have you ever been complacent in a friend’s behaviour despite knowing it to be wrong?
At school, have you ever made another pupil uncomfortable through your own behaviour?
Everyone need to take ownership for their behaviour and the impact it has. We need to create cultures where people know what good looks like and are equipped to make conscious, thoughtful choices and have the skills to action them.
What are the foundation blocks for successful behavioural change? This is exactly the question we debated at the event ‘Beyond Everyone’s Invited’. This is just the beginning of the conversation, but the recording is worth a watch to hear from some incredible speakers who were passionate and honest about what needs to change.