The Forum was established in 1987 in an era of great negativity
towards sex education and has grown and developed through a time of
cultural shifts and policy changes.
Sex education has now become sex and relationships education
(SRE), signalling that children and young people are entitled to
more than just the biological basics!
The book extract below provides a time-line of key events in the
first 21 years of the Sex Education Forum.
1986 - 'The Moral
In 1986 there was a moral panic in the
tabloid press centred on AIDS, young people's sexuality and sexual
orientation. On the one hand the public were exposed to
hard-hitting campaigns such as 'Don't die of ignorance' and on the
other there was press outrage around some sex education materials
being used in schools.
One example is the Danish
book Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin(Bosche 1983), a
story about a gay couple who bring up a five-year-old girl, the
daughter of Martin, that caused headlines such as 'Vile book in
schools' and 'Scandal of gay porn in books read in schools' (Clyde
2001). Not unsurprisingly, this climate affected rational
discussions about sex education. And in the eye of this storm, the
Sex Education Forum (SEF) was conceived.
The founder eight members already
reflected a diversity that continues to characterise SEF's over 50
members today, and consisted of the Health Visitors Association,
the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (Marriage Care), the Health
Education Authority, the National Marriage Guidance Council
(RELATE), SPOD (a sexual health charity for people with
disability), fpa (formerly the Family Planning Association), Brook
1988 - Building
In 1988 the Local Government Act
introduced a new clause, which commonly became known as Section 28.
This stated that a local authority should not promote homosexuality
or promote the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a
pretended family relationship. Although it did not apply to
schools, it served to cause confusion and anxiety amongst the
teaching profession and undermined the confidence of those
delivering sex education.
Throughout the early years, SEF worked
on developing a common set of values for sex education that all
members could sign up to. These have, over time, evolved but still
remain at the heart of all the work SEF undertakes.
SEF's first publication was a simple
list of resources, which proved so popular that the huge demand
from professionals for support in this area could no longer be
ignored. By the summer of 1990 funding was secured from the
Department of Education and work with the public could really
1992 - Understanding local
provision of sex education
In 1992 the government launched its
Health of the Nation strategy, with the reduction of teenage
pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) being two of its
At the same time SEF carried out a
ground breaking survey of 87 local authorities; the report
concluded that there existed
- an inconsistency in terms of the
numbers of schools with sex education policies,
- confusion concerning the place of sex
education in the National Curriculum and
- anxiety at all levels which had
resulted in young people not receiving the sex education they
needed (Thomson and Scott 1992).
1993 - Building a values
framework for SRE
The 1993 Education Act included some
new challenges for sex education. It stated that only the
biological aspects of HIV, AIDS, STIs and human sexual behaviour
could be included in the National Curriculum. Parents were also
given the right to withdraw their children from sex education and
were not required to give a reason.
The Act was followed by a long awaited
circular on sex education for schools that was greeted by SEF with
some optimism. SEF welcomed the government's commitment to the
view that all pupils should be offered the opportunity to receive a
comprehensive, well-planned programme of sex education during their
school careers. The notion of a moral framework was also further
developed in this circular.
"The Secretary of State believes that
schools programme for sex education should therefore aim to present
the facts in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner, set
within a clear framework of values, an awareness of the law on
sexual behaviour. Pupils should be encouraged to appreciate the
value of stable family life, marriage and the responsibilities of
parenthood. They should also be helped to consider the importance
of self-restraint, dignity, respect for themselves and others,
acceptance of responsibility, sensitivity towards the needs of
others, loyalty and fidelity " (DfEE 1993).
SEF responded to this new focus by
exploring values and morals from a range of perspectives, in
consultation with numerous organisations including religious
organisations. As a result it published its pioneering
document Religion, Ethnicity and Sex
Education (Thomson 1993).
1994 - Sex and the
The following year the first ever
survey on National Survey on Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles
(NATSAL) was published. This found that a massive 70 per cent of
respondents felt that they had insufficient information
available to them when they first had sex. (Johnson and others
1996 - Education
Two years later there was another
Education Act, which consolidated all previous legislation and now
expected that the biological aspects of sex education should be
taught both in primary and secondary.
1999 - Birth of
Just before the millennium, the pace
really started picking up and SEF was very busy indeed. Sex
education became known as 'sex and relationships education', or
SRE, to acknowledge that children and young people are entitled to
more than just the biological basics.
The new Framework for Personal, Social
and Health Education (PSHE) was published, which embedded SRE
firmly within the broader programme of learning. This reflected the
growing appreciation that young people do not compartmentalise
their lives according to sex, drugs, alcohol and health, but rather
that all of these elements are interwoven.
Further, the National Healthy Schools
Standard was launched, and the pioneering Teenage Pregnancy Report
published, SRE being a significant element within the prevention
strand. SEF was a key partner in the development of these important
government initiatives, which proved to be vital levers for
2000 - First SRE
As a result of the growing need for
clarity and support, the 2000 SRE Guidance was published. Although
non-statutory, this was the most comprehensive document the
government had produced on the subject and it represented an
important milestone in the history of SRE.
Other important events for 2000 were
the equalisation of the age of consent and the launch of SEF's very
first Charter for Young People.
2001 - Just say NO to
In 2001 we saw the launch of the
national programme for the Certification of PSHE(Personal, Social
and Health Education) Teaching, which was a very important
milestone in the history of this subject.
Also, after two study tours to the
United States, SEF published its Just Say No to
Abstinence education book (Blake and Frances, 2001),
which confirmed that abstinence-only education was not a quick-fix
solution to teenage pregnancy or a viable alternative to a broader,
more comprehensive, programme of SRE.
2003 - Repeal of Section
In 2003, after a long campaign which
SEF supported, we saw the repeal of Section 28, legislation that
forbade the 'promoting of homosexuality'.
The Sexual Offences Act was also
drafted in 2003, and aimed to clarify what constitutes a crime of a
sexual nature against a child; SEF, along with other colleagues,
worked hard to ensure that professionals could continue to provide
information and advice without fear of criminalisation.
2006 - Beyond Biology
This year saw SEF launch its Beyond
Biology Campaign. The campaign highlighted the consensus and
commitment amongst its 50 member organisations to the call for
PSHE, which includes SRE, to be made a statutory subject (Martinez
This truly set the ball rolling.
2007 - UK Youth Parliament's
'Are you getting it?' campaign
In 2007 the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP)
launched their 'Are you Getting It?' survey and campaign, which
also called for PSHE to be made statutory.
Other significant events in this year
included the launch by the National Institute for Clinical
Excellence (NICE) of a two-year programme to develop PSHE guidance
with a focus on sex and relationships and alcohol education, and
the introduction of a revised national curriculum for secondary
schools, including a new programme of study, 'Personal well-being'.
Of even greater importance was the introduction of a duty on
schools to promote the well-being of their pupils.
2008 - Review of
In 2008 following the increasing
groundswell of professional support for statutory SRE, the concern
that SRE is not meeting the needs of over a third of young people,
as well as reports from Ofsted that PSHE, although improving, was
still patchy, led the government to announce a review of SRE.
SEF made a significant contribution to this review including a
survey of the views of young people and a survey of the views of
On the 23rd October 2008 the
government published their response to the
recommendations made by the review group. The Minster for
Schools and Learners Jim Knight announced, at the SEFs 21st
Birthday conference, the government's intention, following a
review of PSHE, to make PSHE statutory. The government also
committed to re-writing the 2000 SRE guidance.
At the birthday conference SEF also
launched its new Young People's Charter "We Want More!"
2009 - Where are we
The drafting of the revised SRE Guidance is underway. Sir
Alasdair MacDonald completed his review of PSHE and we are now
waiting for the results of the public consultation on PSHE. This
autumn we hope to see the introduction of legislation to make PSHE,
which includes SRE statutory...
....these are exciting times so watch this space!
Extract From "Celebrating Sex and Relationships Education. Past,
present and future". 2008. NCB: London