Calls for statutory sex education in Scots schools

Schools should be compelled by law to teach children about issues such as contraception, abortion, sexuality, abuse and sexual consent, a sex education lobbyist will tell MSPs.

A counsellor visiting a high school to speak to the pupils about sex and relationships. Picture: TSPL

Scotland has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe and is “rife” with sexually-transmitted infections and homophobia while its “ambiguous” guidance on sexual consent “adds to sexual violence, rape and verbal harassment”, according to Sexpression:UK.

The student projects network is calling on Holyrood to take the almost unprecedented step of using the law to compel schools to provide sex and relationship education (SRE).

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Jack Fletcher, advocacy representative at Sexpression:UK and an Aberdeen University medical student, will make the case for statutory sex education at Holyrood’s Public Petitions committee tomorrow.

A New sex education book for school children. Picture: Sandy Young

He said: “At present, there is no statutory SRE in the Scottish education system.

“I feel very strongly that this is an area that needs vast improvement and that legislation should be passed for comprehensive high-quality SRE to be taught as statutory in schools at primary and secondary level, with age-appropriate measures taken towards content.

“This is a priority because although teenage pregnancy has fallen greatly in recent years, the rates in Scotland are still one of the highest in Europe.

“Sexual-transmitted infections are still rife due to lack of contraception use.

“Homophobia is rife in schools and this is an issue that needs effective confrontation, of which education is key.

“Homophobia leads to self-harm, depression and reduced attainment in the individual’s education capabilities, an issue that is epidemic in schools as shown by the many reports by Stonewall Scotland.

“Consent is a huge area of ambiguity and this only adds to sexual violence, rape and verbal harassment. This is not treated with the concern it deserves.”

More than three-quarters of denominational schools will not discuss contraception, even if it is raised by pupils, while almost as many were unwilling to discuss STIs, according to Sexpression:UK.

Nearly a quarter of schools have no SRE-trained staff and in over half of schools the staff responsible for SRE delivery were not trained, it said.

Nearly one in twenty formally offer SRE when it should be 100% coverage across Scotland, it added.

Mr Fletcher added: “I recommend that SRE should build upon current education guidelines and include, in addition, online safety; routes and modes of STI infection, with symptom recognition; consent; law surrounding sexual behaviour; sexuality, to include lesbian, gay, bisexual information and issues; gender, to include transgender information; healthy relationships and what is lawfully abuse; abortion as a form of treatment, not contraception; body image; pregnancy; challenging stigma and stereotypes (and) ensure that children and young people are clearly informed where they can get confidential advice and support.”

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) has advised MSPs that Scotland has almost no statutory curriculum, with only religious education and Gaelic instruction in certain regions enshrined in law.

“Rather than being set out in statute, the school curriculum is established through guidance issued by Education Scotland,” it said.

“The Scottish Government note that responsibility for sex and relationship education lies primarily with local authorities.”