05 July 2022

Children’s commissioner shocked by ‘horrendous’ sex education materials

05 July 2022

The children’s commissioner has said she was “shocked” to hear “horrendous” examples of some of the sex education materials used in schools.

Dame Rachel de Souza told the Commons Education Committee on Tuesday that she would be looking into the teaching of relationships and sex education (RSE), and that children wanted “thoughtful” and “age-appropriate” materials in school.

Tory MP Miriam Cates, who sits on the committee, said constituents had written to her raising concerns over “a nine-year-old coming home, shaking, white as a sheet, because they’ve been taught in detail about rape”.

She compared this to teaching four-year-olds about quadratic equations, and said pupils should not be exposed to complex and difficult conversations about sex before they are ready.

Miriam Cates (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA) (PA Media)

“Of course, at some point, children need to know the reality of the world we live in and to be taught how to keep themselves safe and consent,” she said.

But she asked whether age-inappropriate RSE material was “damaging” children.

Dame Rachel said age-appropriate materials are “absolutely critical” and she had particularly looked at this where it concerned the online world.

She said she would examine how RSE is taught in schools, adding that Ms Cates “gave some horrendous examples” in a Westminster Hall debate last week.

Dame Rachel said headteachers and trust leaders had spoken of their worries about providing quality lessons on the subject, which resulted in outsourcing teaching to external providers.

“We need to look at that,” she said.

Last week, Ms Cates delivered a speech on RSE in which she condemned “extreme” materials being delivered in schools to pupils.

She said the new RSE framework had “opened the floodgates to a whole host of external providers who offer sex education materials to schools, and now children are being exposed across the country to a plethora of deeply inappropriate, wildly inaccurate, sexually explicit and damaging materials in the name of sex education”.

Examples she gave included dice showing body parts, used to prompt pupils to suggest different sexual positions, and youngsters being taught about “rough sex”, spanking and choking.

She said one parent in her constituency had been “distraught” that her six-year-old had been taught about masturbation in school.

Materials from the Sex Education Forum divided children into groups of “menstruators and non-menstruators”, she said, which would confuse teenage girls, while sex education provider BISH said “many people” were in the middle of the spectrum when it came to whether they had male or female genitals.

Ms Cates said that some RSE lessons were “actively contributing to the sexualisation and adultification of children”.

“The introduction of graphic or extreme sexual material in sex education lessons also reinforces the porn culture that is damaging our children in such a devastating way,” she said.

Ms Cates said that encouraging pupils to talk about intimate details with adults made them more “available” and “susceptible” to sexual predators.

In the debate, she said contracting out RSE teaching to external providers created a “Wild West scenario” when it came to teaching the topic.

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