It’s a child’s right to be educated, not given a morality lecture – a response to the Sex and Relationship Education Council

// 25 May 2011

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sexeducation.jpgJess/BookElfLeeds lives in Leeds, where she runs the Travelling Suitcase Library. She writes for and, and tweets as @BookElfLeeds

I grew up in the “teenage pregnancy capital of Europe”, Scarborough. When I was 13 in 1998, 55.8% of teenage girls became pregnant at some point.

This figure has now dropped, but Scarborough still has the highest percentage of teenage pregnancy, and the lowest percentage of teenagers having abortions, in North Yorkshire.

Growing up, we were painfully aware of this. The year we left school, the fashion was to sign each other’s ‘leaving books’; many girls signed each others “see you in the maternity ward!” The oldest joke in Scarborough is: “Why are there so many teenage pregnancies? Because there’s nothing else to do.” For half the year, half the town was unemployed, or underemployed. It was almost a given; if you left school at 16 you’d be pregnant the year after. Many, many girls in my year had mums in their early 30s, grans in their late 40s. It was normal.

Why? Well, if the majority of the members of the new Sex and Relationship Education Council, which has been given the seal of approval by Education Secretary Michael Gove, are right, it’s because we weren’t told to ‘save’ ourselves till marriage and were instead told that condoms provide 98% protection rate against STDs and pregnancy, and that it is more important to be prepared and confident when saying yes, than never exploring your sexual side until you get a wedding ring on your finger.

When I was a teenager everyone was having sex. Of my six close women friends I grew up with, four had sex before they were 16, three of those with boys who were also under 16.

I am incredibly privileged, middle class, straight and cis, so are these women. We were having sex because we wanted to, because we were exploring our bodies and our sexuality. There is a very good reason that sex with a child is illegal, and children should of course be protected from harm and abuse, but that does not mean that education providers should be forced to stick to a curriculum that promotes a certain religion, or ethic. It is a child’s right to be educated; not given a morality lecture.

For me is the most important word: Choice. The Sex and Relationship Education Council is an umbrella body, but anyone not promoting an anti-choice, pro-marriage outlook keeps on getting wet. Parents can already choose to withdraw their children from lessons that relate to SRE, but apparently this is not enough; even children from single parent, or communally parenting families must be told in school that in order to be acceptable to the consensus you have to be straight and married.

The government wants less teenage girls becoming pregnant. I don’t really see what is so wrong with women over the age of consent choosing to become mothers, or mind that my taxes go to pay for them to be able to bring their children up out of poverty. I would rather that all types of family be supported and celebrated, rather than only those resulting from heterosexual marriage. I would rather my government didn’t give validation to lobbying groups that are anti-women, as some of the bodies on the SRE Council are by virtue of their anti-choice stance. I would rather we didn’t have a woman-hating government.

Challenge Team UK, one of the organisations on the Council, is not a Christian organisation. Their volunteers are so passionate about the choice they have made to save their virginity until marriage, which is their choice so fair play to them, that they want to tell the world about it. The FAQ part of the website includes, to my non-religious eyes, a fairly sensible question: “What if you save sex for marriage and then find out that you are sexually incompatible?” To this the answer is “Men and women are sexually compatible.” This is what the government thinks that children should be taught; there is one way, and one way only, and anyone who disagrees must be vilified.

The Sex and Relationship Education Council consists of:



Challenge Team UK

LIFE (trigger warning-abortion described as ‘damaging’)

Silver Ring Thing

Family Education Trust

Right To Life (couldn’t find website)

Drawing of “sex education” by Haya Al Dossary, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

sarah // Posted 25 May 2011 at 8:35 pm

Seriously?! Are they the only members of the Council? This weighting towards anti-abortion, Christian, abstinence-based education is beyond worrying.

James E Lyon // Posted 25 May 2011 at 10:12 pm

The summary confirms and reinforces the news I heard — and to echo Sarah’s comment above, is that really the entire composition of the Council?

I am not really sure what to say yet, it just seems a bit frightening, unsettling, bafflingly outdated. Suffice to say one of (no doubt) many thumbs-up for the article and some head-scratching as to what I might do next. Anyone want to go and start a new society on another planet??

Jess McCabe // Posted 25 May 2011 at 10:20 pm

Yep, those are all the members. Check out the press release:

Feminist Avatar // Posted 25 May 2011 at 11:43 pm

Glad to see that they are utilising all that academic expertise around the reasons for teen pregnancy then…

Jass // Posted 26 May 2011 at 9:42 am

I’m really worried about this too. I’m wondering what if there is anything that can be done before the government attempts to pass any crazy laws.

Laurel // Posted 26 May 2011 at 11:04 am

so there’s 6 abstinence campaigns, at least 3 of which are anti-abortion, and one which wants to delay sex education? is there no balance at all here?

Tim // Posted 26 May 2011 at 10:45 pm

Put very simply, this is the start of the same christianist agenda as is being experienced in full flow in the USA right now. It is not just an issue for women. The appears to be no LGBT representation which there should be. I appreciate that this is a feminist site. I simply want to point out that fighting against it should not be limited solely to women and women’s rights. I believe we are looking at the rights of all children here, male, female, LGBTQ, heterosexual and yes, those destined to be asexual as well.

Children are too important to expose only to christianist ideology. They need to be given well balanced, well informed information that is genuine education, not propaganda. Inspecting the sites you have been able to list at the foot of the article shows me that there is no balance, no even handedness.

Abortion is lawful, a valid and decent choice, and a difficult choice (I am given to understand the last part. I cannot know it. I am a man.).

Sex is fun. Almost all who participate in it willingly know this.

Children are not stupid. They will respond badly to education from organisations whose objectives are biased. By responding badly they will not get the real messages about learning about and practicing safe sex. Once you say “No!” to a child you encourage that act!

We must all fight against this grossly biased organisation, one that I believe to be prejudicial to children’s needs

Cloud // Posted 26 May 2011 at 11:06 pm

Thankfully the Guardian disagrees with the care website –

“the forum consists of representatives of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV; the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; the Association of Directors of Public Health; the British HIV Association; the Terrence Higgins Trust; Brook; the Family Planning Association; the Sex Education Forum and National Children’s Bureau; Marie Stopes International; and Life.”

Let’s hope they’re right!

Jess McCabe // Posted 26 May 2011 at 11:14 pm

@Cloud The Guardian story is referring to a different group. That is the list of members of the official forum which advises government.

This SRE council is a different thing.

Cloud // Posted 26 May 2011 at 11:20 pm

Oh! Sorry, ignore me – completely different group all together.

These Gove approved, “value based’ lot are absolutely extending the right-wing US agenda. How troubling that they have been endorsed by the government. And, not to open up a whole other minefield, but should the government be approving groups composed solely of Christian organisations to advise them? Combined with the free-school, decentralised approach it’s really quite worrying.

Cloud // Posted 26 May 2011 at 11:26 pm

The statement from Gove is v troubling in itself –

“We ensured the Labour Government were stopped when they wanted to remove parents’ right to remove children from inappropriate lessons… I look forward to working with you all in ensuring that the interests of families are put at the heart of our policies.’”

The focus is completely on parents, who absolutely should be involved, engaged etc, but no reference to children and teens and their rights to be informed and exposed to evidence and views so they can make educated choices

Phillip Dawson // Posted 3 March 2012 at 11:00 am

I am sorry for adding a comment so long after your original blog. Evaluate, one of the organisations listed above, is the education arm of CARE (Christian Action Research and Education).

In 2009 CARE sponsored a gay cure event. They also run a parliamentary intern programme. 18 MPs serving MPs have declared material support from CARE (i.e. a staff member) since the gay cure conference took place.

There is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is a disease, or that sexual orientation can be changed through theraputic means. The Royal College of Psychiatrists have stated that even talking about such ‘gay cures’ creates an environment in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.

I’ve started a petition calling on these MPs to distance themselves from CARE. So far one, David Lammy (Tottenham) has done so.

I very much hope you will read the ‘about’ tab of my petition, which has a direct relevance to the SREC that you have mentioned in this post and contains the information I have found out. I also hope you would consider signing the petition.

The petition has received a lot of coverage this week after being featured in the Pink News.

Many thanks

Phillip Dawson

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