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Women and Equalities Committee calls for statutory SRE to tackle sexual harassment in schools

The House of Commons Women’s and Equalities Committee has called on the Government to make Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education (PSHE) and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) compulsory in all schools. In a report exposing ‘the shocking scale of sexual harassment and sexual violence’ in schools, the Committee states that ‘good quality SRE is shown to have a positive impact, helping to reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence’, and recommends that ‘PSHE and SRE are made statutory subjects as part of the new Education Bill’. The British Humanist Association (BHA), whose evidence to the Committee’s inquiry is cited in the report, has welcomed the recommendation as yet another indication of the growing consensus on this issue.

The report is the product of a five-month inquiry which heard from a range of women’s and children’s rights experts, charities, teachers, and young people themselves. It outlines evidence that almost a third of 16-18-year-old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school, and states that ‘young people told the Committee that sexual harassment has become a normal part of school life’.

In addition to recommending that teachers be given more training and support to deal with such incidents and that schools be required to collect data whenever sexual harassment is reported, the Committee states that ‘of the 92 written evidence submissions we received, only one said that SRE should not be made a statutory subject’. The report further highlights the consensus on this issue by citing the observation made by the BHA in its evidence that the same recommendation has now been made by, among others, the Chief Medical Officer, the Children’s Commissioner for England, the NSPCC, and the UN Children’s Rights Committee, not to mention the overwhelming majority of teachers, parents, and children. Even in the few days since the Women and Equalities Committee’s report was published, the Home Affairs Committee has also released a report calling for statutory PSHE and SRE, both to ‘tackle violence against women and girls, and teach children about FGM in particularly high-prevalence areas’.

Despite this, the Government decided in February not to make PSHE and SRE compulsory, though it now states that this position is under review, and this week the Education Secretary Justine Greening suggested that her department might finally be considering the change.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘We have now lost count of the number of times that the clear and irrefutable evidence on the need for statutory PSHE and SRE in schools has been laid before the Government. This report and the scale of sexual harassment and violence that it reveals is as compelling a case for such a change as has yet been made, and it would be hugely irresponsible for the Government to ignore its recommendations.

‘Of course, tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence is just one of the many benefits that introducing comprehensive, age-appropriate SRE will bring. All the evidence and expertise tells us that it leads to the best outcomes in terms of safeguarding children from abuse, reducing teenage pregnancies, improving sexual health, and challenging homophobic bullying and gender stereotypes too. We will continue to encourage the Government to recognise the overwhelming consensus on this issue, so that all children can receive the information they need to be safe, healthy, and happy.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read the full report of the Women and Equalities Committee: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/91.pdf?utm_source=91&utm_medium=module&utm_campaign=modulereportshttp://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/91.pdf?utm_source=91&utm_medium=module&utm_campaign=modulereports

Read the BHA’s submission to the Women and Equalities Committee: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/women-and-equalities-committee/dfe-evidence-check-forum/curriculum-and-personal-social-health-and-economic-education/

Read the DfE’s evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee on PSHE: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/women-and-equalities/evidence-check/DfE-Evidence-PHSE.pdf

Read the BHA’s previous news item: ‘Young people denied education for safe relationships in schools in England – BHA responds to Women and Equalities Committee consultation’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/07/11/bha-criticises-government-stance-on-pshe-and-sre-in-submission-to-women-and-equalities-committee/

Read our previous news item ‘Government decides against statutory PSHE despite overwhelming support and expert evidence’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/02/10/government-decides-against-statutory-pshe-despite-overwhelming-support-and-expert-evidence/

Read more about the BHA’s work on PSHE and Sex and Relationships Education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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