Today’s Education in the Media blog looks at the Secretary of State’s editorial piece in today’s Daily Telegraph ahead of the launch of the consultation on updated Relationships and Sex Education guidance.
This week, we are planning to launch the consultation on the updated guidance for Relationships Education at primary and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) at secondary school.
On Sunday 15 July, we announced that young people will be taught how to deal with peer pressure and the importance of consent, in both the virtual and real worlds, as part of the new updated guidance for ‘future proof’ Relationships and Sex Education. This was covered by the Sunday Times, Sunday Express, and Observer.
Today, Monday 16 June, the Daily Telegraph ran an editorial piece from the Secretary of State, which looked at how children will be taught how to keep themselves safe online, including learning about age-restrictions on websites.
Secretary of State Damian Hinds said:
I can clearly remember getting my first mobile phone. It was back in the 1990s, I was in my 20s and the phone was a Sony ‘Mars Bar’, so called because it was supposed to be a similar size - it wasn’t even close. It made calls and that was it. I thought it was the absolute business. The biggest danger it posed would have been dropping it on my foot.
Children today have never known a time when a phone couldn’t navigate you through life; from being your sense of direction, to your bank, to your shopping centre, to your library, to your music collection.
Parents let their children have mobile phones because it means they can be in constant contact with them – checking that they are happy and safe. It’s one of the countless benefits of 21st Century technology. But like all things, there are downsides.
Today children have to learn to cope in two worlds: the virtual one and the real one – and this is giving old problems a dangerous new edge.
Take bullying for example. It’s always cruel but at least most children used to be able to escape it once they got home. Cyber-bullying never stops, even after the school bell has rung. And sadly research suggests that one in four young people have experienced it.
Social media brings other issues into sharp relief - body image and the battering self-confidence can take in the age of the selfie; the relentless pressure to compare and share among peer groups; the vulnerability of the young to predators in chat rooms; and the addictive and often graphic violence on games.
While these issues aren’t new, social media and mobile tech exacerbate them. It makes them relentless and unavoidable in your pocket or handbag. It’s the flipside of being able to connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time – there is no escape. None of this is conducive to a child’s happiness and wellbeing.
In recent weeks, there have been calls for blanket bans on phones in schools to deal with these issues.
I support any head teacher who imposes one. But I firmly believe that it is for the head teacher – the person who knows the pupils, the parents and the school – to make that decision, rather than a politician telling them to do so. Our research shows 95% of teachers surveyed said their schools impose some kind of restriction on mobile phone use during the school day. We have also given teachers the powers to confiscate phones and to investigate cyber bullying in and out of school.
But a phone ban can only address the symptoms not the cause of the problem. It is the social media and game companies that have a moral responsibility to their users, especially the younger ones. It is not an excuse to say a site or game is only meant for adults.
These social media giants must act: they should be taking down bullying content from their sites far more quickly. They should be promoting diversity of body image among their millions of users. While gaming companies should do more to shield young users from inappropriate content or from being contacted by strangers.
Alongside parents, of course schools must still play a role in protecting children – and government also has a responsibility to help them. In fact, one of the most important ways of protecting children is to educate them so they can learn to recognise potential dangers for themselves.
That’s why this week I am launching a consultation on the draft guidance we will be providing schools to teach relationships education in primary and relation and sex education in secondary. We will be making these subjects compulsory in all schools, so that young people are better informed about healthy relationships. This covers a spectrum of friends, family, partners and more casual acquaintances including those they make online. It will teach them how to recognise and manage risks and keep themselves safe.
Many of today’s problems didn’t exist when we last gave schools guidance on how to teach relationships and sex education 18 years ago. It’s high time we updated these subjects, which are so important in helping young people become happy, well rounded and better able to deal with the challenges of the modern world.
As a society, we can’t switch off the internet and nor would we want to. However, we must make sure that everyone, especially children, can navigate the virtual world, as well as knowing when it’s time to step away from the screen and make the most of the real one.