Baroness Kidron on why we must grasp the opportunity for high quality PSHE

The PSHE Association welcomed strong cross party support for the subject in the House or Lords debate on PSHE education on 24th April.

Baroness Doreen Massey led the debate and there were over 15 speakers from across the political spectrum, covering issues from emergency first aid to the impact of online pornography, as well as the crucial role PSHE can play in preparing children for life in a rapidly changing world. 

The contribution from Crossbench Peer Baroness Kidron was of particular interest, stressing the importance of PSHE in helping young people to understand elements of SRE including consent and the influence of pornography but more broadly in providing sophisticated learning about the internet itself.

Baroness Kidron has kindly provided a transcript of her speech with additions which you can read here:

“Baroness Kidron: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing forward the debate eventually. I support many of the comments that noble Lords have made about skills and values. However, I would like to concentrate on sex education and in particular the question of pornography.

A few weeks ago, I sat in the bedroom of a 15 year-old boy. Together we looked at a website that, at a touch of a button, conjured up hundreds of pornographic films in 32 different categories which I will not embarrass noble Lords by mentioning by name. This young boy admits that his porn addiction is a barrier to having a relationship because real girls do not conform to the images he sees online. At 15 he bitterly regrets this situation.  As uncomfortable as it is for us to acknowledge this, his experience is becoming a new normal-it is not an unusual thing.

Multiple studies, including a recent one from Boston University's School of Public Health, which reported on the rise of teen group sex, show that sexual activity among teens is increasingly reflective of commercial sexual fantasy.  Not least it’s very damaging gender stereotyping. Nearly a third of all girls between 13 and 17 report having engaged in unwanted sexual acts demanded by a partner, which is a blurring of the concept of consent that goes way into adulthood. Children and young adults need a less heightened environment in which to rehearse their route to being self-respecting and respectful sexual beings.

With only minimal changes to the proposed curriculum, the Government have the opportunity to ensure that primary science teaches children about the changes brought on by puberty, provides a formal setting for the naming of genitalia and delivers a clear understanding of reproduction. As children get to key stage 3, experiences of adolescence, hormonal change, sexual health and disease contextualised in a science lesson would do much to give children confidence in the quality of the information they have about their bodies, while PSHE should provide a broader and more discursive forum in which young people can learn about many of the complex issues they face in this area.

A recent report from the Department of Health, A Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England, puts the emphasis for the under 16s on building knowledge and resilience and for those who are 16 plus  on access to high quality services and information.

To provide knowledge of what sex is, resilience against the sexualised imagery that dictates inappropriate behaviours and delivers confidence to resist the pressures that result in unwanted or abusive sexual activity. No young person should be isolated or ignorant on their journey to the pleasures and responsibilities of sexual maturity.

It is disappointing that the Government have not yet made PSHE a statutory requirement, but they could undertake to make more explicit,  the relationship between the statutory requirement to provide for the mental and physical development of children and the provision of PSHE in our schools.

It is my view, PSHE should provide not only sex education, it should include sophisticated learning about the Internet itself. Learning that explores and emphasises its wonders, but does not duck any of the problems it produces, not least the unremitting backdrop of commercially driven sexual content. We have to be careful not to vilify parents. They are struggling to police their children on the net and many of the young people I speak to do not wish to discuss intimate bodily functions with their parents. I fear that if we do not grasp the opportunity to offer high status, high quality PSHE, the realpolitik is that we will leave the sex education of many young people to the pornographers.”

Please note our upcoming Twitter #PSHEchat on Wednesday, May 1st at 7.30 covers the topic of consent. Read more about this and previous SRE related chats on 'Putting the R into SRE' and tackling homophobia and transphobia.


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