10 March 2023

Sex education must be ‘grounded in facts’ to prevent controversy – Ofsted chief

10 March 2023

Relationships and sex education must be “grounded in facts” to prevent controversy, Ofsted’s chief inspector has said.

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of Ofsted, told school and college leaders that “clearer and more specific guidelines” on relationships and sex education (RSE) could “help everybody get it right”.

Her comments come after Rishi Sunak said the Government would accelerate a review of how relationships and sex education is being taught in schools.

The pledge came after Conservative MP Miriam Cates said pupils were being subjected to relationships and sex education lessons that are “age inappropriate, extreme, sexualising and inaccurate.”

Speaking at the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in Birmingham, Ms Spielman said: “I think good relationships and sex education is an important and valuable thing in schools.

I do think good guidelines - clearer and more specific guidelines - really could help everybody get it right

“I think the last thing that most people want is to return to some of those dreadful battles of the past that made it possible to do what schools can do today.”

Addressing more than 1,000 school and college leaders on Friday, Ms Spielman added: “But I think that makes it doubly important that the RSE in schools really is well grounded in facts, in evidence, just like other areas of education, because otherwise controversy could so engulf it that it could make schools more risk averse and jeopardise the good RSE which I think all of us really want to see.

“I do think good guidelines – clearer and more specific guidelines –  really could help everybody get it right.”

During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said the Government would bring forward a review of how RSE is being taught in schools, adding that he had asked the Department for Education (DfE) to “ensure that schools are not teaching inappropriate or contested content”.

I think the bit that will leave 1,200 people here unnerved is where are all of these examples coming from?

Speaking to the media at the union’s conference on sex education guidance, Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said: “So if what we’re saying is let’s have a look at that framework to see whether the framework is fit for purpose now post-pandemic when lots of young people were perhaps online far more than they would have been, that seems to me quite reasonable.

“I think the bit that will leave 1,200 people here unnerved is where are all of these examples coming from? Because they’re not in the framework.”

He added: “I think there will be a sense of irritation, not because we are complacent about all of this stuff, but because the people who really ought to be knowing about it first shouldn’t be hearing about it in Prime Minister’s questions. They should be hearing it because it’s been brought to them through due process.”

When asked about some of the concerns raised by MPs on RSE lessons, Mr Barton added: “Frankly, as an organisation that talks about ethical leadership, we probably don’t need to put in black and white teaching primary children about masturbation is probably a bad thing.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said on Twitter on Wednesday evening: “I am deeply concerned by reports of inappropriate sex education lessons in schools.

“We are reviewing sex education guidance to make sure schools are not teaching content that is inappropriate, and schools should ensure they’re making content available to parents if requested.”

During the union’s conference,  ASCL leaders called on the Government to publish safeguarding guidance to schools in relation to transgender issues.

Evelyn Forde, president of ASCL and headteacher of Copthall School in north London, told the media: “I think guidance really will help those non-specialist teachers who may be delivering those topics.

“Guidance often comes out quite late from the DfE. So I think what we would welcome would be that early guidance.”

“We’d welcome it as soon as,” she added.

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