We were always wondering how the new Education Secretary was going to stamp her name on the position.  Well now it seems as though we have our answer.

Nicky Morgan stepped into the role after the entire education profession rejoiced at the removal of Michael Gove in July this year.  With promises to make sure that marking controversies were sorted in time for the next exam period, it all seemed to be off to a good start.

We’re now nearly a month into the school year and it seems as though Ms Morgan has played her first major card – and it’s all around that contentious issue of sex education.

It’s been one of those things that schools keep having to readjust for time and time again – when kids are in primary schools they’re taught about some of the more basic details about puberty and the like.  Gradually as they grow older hormones are examined and many will look at different roles of contraception.

Of course, the inconsistent nature of the curriculum and some rather interesting methods of delivery have meant that it’s all a bit patchy to be honest.  Therefore, when it comes to actually a consistent set of standards we seem to be some way off the mark.

Morgan has attempted to respond to these concerns by making sure that we know what should be expecting from schools.  Not only that, but she’s also responded to some of society’s more sensitive issues.

In recent weeks and months the news has been rather full of stories of domestic violence and other horrific things.  According to new plans, this subject and other difficult topics are going to be discussed:

  • The very sensitive issue of rape and consent is going to be a key topic.
  • Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – one of the more reprehensible parts of modern society – is one the agenda to be discussed and debated.
  • Pornography is a frequent topic for debate in the government in terms of internet controls and soon it will make an appearance on the school curriculum.
  • Domestic violence is going to be tackled – it’s made the news recently with several high profile athletes being suspended for their part in it.  It’s clear that the government wants to combat the issue in the classroom.
  • Online sex abuse is being targeted in IT lessons, but now it seems as though this will form a part of the new material.

Nicky Morgan has accepted that there are gaps in what is currently available for schools in terms of resources and has signed a document produced by the activist group End Violence Against Women Coalition – aimed at providing a resource for schools.

The information sheet says that it is aimed at confronting ‘harmful attitudes in boys and young men’ before they become full adults.

The news has attracted a bit of criticism, with campaign group Parents Outloud being especially critical of Morgan pandering to a ‘hugely aggressive feminist group.’

According to member Margaret Morrissey, schools are going to find themselves taking highly explicit material into the classrooms, something which is not advisable in their view.

It’s a very difficult thing to gauge – I’m not a parent and so can’t really speak from a parent’s point of view.  I guess there are some parents out there who are happy for schools to provide support and education on the matter and I’m sure that others would want to deal with the issue themselves, at home.

The problem with a purely school-lead sex education is that these things are sometimes politicised and therefore the message blurred.  I mean, the government’s plan to force Internet Service Providers to censor pornographic content by default was controversial and amounted in many people’s eyes to repression – others new it as a necessary step in a battle of morals.  Regardless of your personal view, it does concern me that the pornographic material discussed in such sessions is going to automatically have a negative tone to it.  Right off the bat, we’ve got politics in the classroom rather than a balanced point of view.

My main issue is where this resource is coming from: a feminist group.  I have nothing wrong with the concept of feminism, let me say that off the bat.  However, it seems as though it’s quite an agenda that’s with the interests of purely girls and women involved.  I understand that the vast majority of rape and FGM victims are female, but it isn’t exclusively towards women.

I see no mention of forced circumcision, violence towards men and even instances of rape where the victim is a man.  Right off the bat it seems as though the default is ‘boys and young men, you have to behave and do the right thing.’ Where’s the balance?  Are we got going to teach girls and young women equal social and sexual responsibility too?

I mean, I know it’s a difficult topic and many people are not comfortable talking about this.  From that perspective there’s a real argument that schools shouldn’t deal with it at all and it should be left to families to decide what to talk about – or at least make it optional to those who feel comfortable.

I understand the concerns of the Parents Outloud group entirely – it does seem a rather one-track mentality towards the issue.  It is, however, a step in the right direction in removing some of these societal blights that we read all too much about.

In my view, it does seem a little politicised and there’s a big argument that it’s an overly-feminist agenda.  If that’s the case and it turns out as I fear, it could create more divisions and even make problems worse.  Education on these issues are key, but only if we can find the right balance of equality and keeping it politically neutral.

It’s a step in the right direction, yes… but it isn’t going to solve everything and doesn’t go far enough.




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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.