Calls for major overhaul of sex and relationships education

13 December 2017


A panel report published today has made recommendations for a major overhaul of sex and relationships education (SRE) in Wales.

The Sex and Relationships Education Expert Panel, chaired by Professor Emma Renold of Cardiff University's School of Social Sciences, was established in March 2017 by Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams to help inform the development of high quality SRE in the new curriculum in Wales.

The panel were asked to identify issues and opportunities which could inform decisions around supporting the teaching profession to deliver high quality SRE in schools more effectively.

In the report published today, the panel have described SRE in Wales as being in need of significant reform if it is to meet the needs of children and young people. Drawing upon the available research in Wales, international research and Estyn’s (2017) recent thematic review on Healthy Relationships, there were found to be significant gaps between the lived experiences of children and young people and the SRE they receive in school. While there is some promising practice, especially when schools collaborate with SRE experts and external service providers, the quality and quantity of SRE provision was found to vary widely.

Emma Renold

"If our recommendations are approved and implemented, we are confident, that over time, Wales can become a beacon of excellence for high quality SRE provision in schools with an emphasis on rights, equity, inclusivity, protection and empowerment."

Professor Emma Renold, Professor of Childhood Studies

Findings concluded that SRE in Wales has too strong a focus on biology, with not enough attention given to rights, gender equity, emotions and relationships. There is a lack of focus on minority gender and sexual identities and relationships, and lack of awareness and education on violence against girls and women, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The panel have recommended that the Welsh Government make SRE statutory in the new curriculum due to be finalised in 2020, with statutory guidance being essential for ensuring that children and young people in Wales have access to high quality SRE. The report sets out how this guidance should be underpinned by core principles and themes that ensure a needs-led, relevant and engaging SRE for all.

The panel have also recommended a name change to Sexuality and Relationships Education, drawing on the World Health Organisation’s definition of ‘sexuality’, with an emphasis on rights, health, and equality. This more expansive definition will also enable teachers to develop an SRE programme of learning that connects with the full curriculum, from the humanities and expressive arts to sciences and technology.

Also identified was an urgent need to establish training for teachers and other professionals involved in SRE provision, including initial teacher education, in-service training and peer education, as well as having a specialist trained SRE lead in every school and local authority, with curriculum time equitable with other curriculum subjects. Currently there are only a handful of school teachers across Wales who are extensively trained in SRE areas.

Kirsty Williams, Cabinet Secretary for Education, said: “Creating an education system which helps all our young people become adults who are healthy, confident individuals is a key part of our National Mission. We can only do this by assisting teachers to gain the knowledge, confidence and skills they need to develop the physical, emotional and mental health of their pupils...”

Kirsty Williams AM

"I would like to thank Professor Renold and the members of the expert panel for their hard work researching and producing this report. The recommendations will assist the Pioneer Schools in exploring curriculum structures and wider whole school approaches around Sex and Relationships Education. I will now consider the report and will publish my response early in the New Year."

Kirsty Williams, Cabinet Secretary for Education

Panel Chair Professor Renold added: “If our recommendations are approved and implemented, we are confident, that over time, Wales can become a beacon of excellence for high quality SRE provision in schools with an emphasis on rights, equity, inclusivity, protection and empowerment. This report, and its extensive evidence paper is an important starting point in outlining what is needed to begin that process. There is, however, some intensive short-term and long-term investment, planning and work-force capacity building ahead if Wales is to provide children and young people with high quality SRE.

“Chairing the panel was a truly collaborative process. I was impressed by the ways in which different sectors, groups and individuals worked together, across diverse yet inter-connected fields to exploit the potential of what SRE could become as the new curriculum takes shape. It certainly makes for a very promising future for high quality SRE in Wales as the infra-structure for a whole school approach to SRE evolves.”

The full report is available to read online here.

For more information visit the School webpages.