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Background Info

I have contacted you to raise an issue that I am concerned with: Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in Scotland. I am a medical student who is very concerned about public health in the UK. I am a member of Sexpression:UK the only youth organisation delivering high quality comprehensive SRE in our local areas. We deliver non-judgemental information in a small group discussion format. Feedback revealed that 80-90% of our pupils ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that they felt better prepared to make decisions in the future regarding their sexual health and relationships.

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 individuals 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.

The current provision is not enough to equip Scottish young people with the right information to tackle these issues. Current outcomes are for 'Learners develop an understanding of how to maintain positive relationships with a variety of people and are aware of how thoughts, feelings, attitudes, values and beliefs can influence decisions about relationships, and sexual health. They develop their understanding of the complex roles and responsibilities of being a parent or carer.' (http://bit.ly/1iN2VEA) This is a very broad outcome that leaves too much room for subjection and misinterpretation when teachers are implementing lessons. These are broken down to focus on the following:

  • respect and caring for self and others
  • respect for individual differences
  • ways to express and deal with feelings and emotions
  • ways to keep safe
  • positive and supportive relationships

The outcomes and proposed directions for teaching are good, but Scotland should be striving for excellence in its provision of education. For this, the outcomes need to be broadened to include many more important aspects of SRE and for outcomes to be clarified so that SRE in Scotland can be more uniform and consistent, an area that is seen by the government to be lacking (http://bit.ly/1hSPcyx). The document referenced highlights some worrying statistics:

  • one quarter (24%) had no SRE trained staff, and in 52% of schools the staff
    currently responsible for SRE delivery were not trained;
  • less than 5% – 13/299 primary schools did not formally offer SRE when it should be 100% coverage across Scotland;
  • denominational schools predominantly expressed views that contraception should not be discussed even if raised by pupils (76%), and 70.6% were unwilling to discuss STIs;
  • when prompted, the children could remember other aspects of SRE, such as health promotion and anti-bullying events, but had little understanding of the role of the informal curriculum in developing positive relationships;
  • case studies showed that schools initial fears about parental complaint went unrealised.

SRE helps students to learn about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up as well as relationships, human sexuality and sexual health. In providing non-judgemental accurate information in these areas, the children and young people of Scotland can have the skills and knowledge to make informed decisions for themselves. The Family Planning Association also believe that it is ‘vitally important to educate people about sex and relationships, to ensure that they have all the information and advice they need to explore, develop and express their own sexuality safely.’

Parents are a key component to providing comprehensive SRE but many parents find this area hard to discuss with their children and I feel it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to provide this information as it does for many subject areas vital for the health and wellbeing of young people.

I hope you consider my thoughts and proposal that would align Scotland with current International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) framework for SRE (http://ow.ly/rStQ5). Scotland can join many other countries in Europe that already have SRE in place in their education: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Netherland, Norway, Poland and Sweden; to name a few.

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