The Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee has agreed to take forward a petition to the Scottish government to make Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) compulsory in Scottish Primary and Secondary schools.
The petition that was put forward on Tuesday by the student network Sexpression:UK to Holyrood, garnered 1096 signatures and backed by 33 organisations, most notably BMA Scotland, THT Scotland, HIV Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland and the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association.
Jack Fletcher, Advocacy co-ordinator, presented the petition on behalf of the network along side Rebecca Ryce.
Fletcher explained that SRE is not taught in many schools and its coverage is inconsistent, as it is not compulsory and the responsibility for its teaching lies primarily with local authorities through recommended national guidance.
In some ways Scotland is lagging behind other parts of the UK which have already implemented parts of compulsory SRE teaching in schools.
As a result Sexpression:UK said this has a proven impact on rates of sexually transmitted infections, teenage pregnancies (of which Scotland has one of the highest rates in Europe), domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment.
Making SRE compulsory and its teaching and training has been proven to also address, “the public sharing of sexually explicit photographs of someone who has not given consent; the effect of exposure to pornography which can be damaging to some children, and incidence of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.”
He added that SRE “in schools is a fundamental human right: not equipping children and young people with the knowledge by which to make safe, healthy and positive choices about their sexual and emotional health and well-being is a violation of these rights and should be a major child protection concern for legislators.”
During the hearing, Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw raised concerns that SRE could impose “received wisdom, what was correct, and whenever someone took an alternate view to that, would be told they were wrong.”
Jack Fletcher and Rebecca Ryce answered that current guidelines already lay the information to be taught in schools quite clearly.
In response Fletcher said that SRE is already based on scientific evidence of its efficacy and that “robust guidelines are in place” but what is being asked is “making it compulsory.”
Ryce added that what is being recommended is that SRE curriculum would be split into factual information about issues such as sexually-transmitted infections and the effectiveness of contraception, and discussion points on subjective topics.
“I do not think that teachers should be told to preach any sort of ideology at all – it should be more about facilitating discussion,” she said.
“I think it’s good for children to hear all sides of the argument as I think that will inform their learning.
Ryce also stressed the way that understanding is crucial for acceptance of LGBTI people at a young age and SRE education is key to prevent homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.
She said that currently LGBTI issues are not discussed in school curriculum “enough. I think a lot of homophobia and transphobia stems from misunderstanding, particularly [in the case of] trans.
“It’s about clarifying terminology for children and just letting them know simple things like: HIV is not a ‘gay disease’. It’s surprising how many people still think that and still associate that with the LGBTI community, and particularly gay men.
“Then there is the more discussion-based lessons. Lesson plans that we do around homophobia can be things like setting up scenarios where you imagine yourself bringing your opposite sex partner to dinner, and then imagine if your partner was the same sex … that would highlight the issues the LGBTI community face.”
The Committee agreed to take the petition forward and write to the Scottish government to seek their view with regards to SRE legislation.
John Wilson MSP committee member concluded on hearing the petition, stating: “Guidance can be really excellent but unless its being actually taught and delivered, then clearly its of no benefit particularly to … young people who would require that support and guidance.”