Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, will today announce Labour’s commitment to making Personal Social Health and Economic education, including age-appropriate Sex and Relationships education, a statutory subject in all state-funded schools, alongside a plan to drive up the quality of lessons with a new generation of leaders to champion the subject. She will highlight David Cameron’s refusal to act against a backdrop of growing evidence of premature sexualisation of young people in Britain.
Shocking new figures from FOI requests to police forces reveal a huge increase in reports of under 16s ‘sexting’ over the last two years.
· Since 2010 – before a number of new smartphone apps were introduced – the number of police incidents involving children sharing explicit images or messages has soared by almost 7000 per-cent nationally.
· Unbelievably, guidance for schools on Sex and Relationships education has not been updated since 2000, before the ‘smartphone generation’ were even born. It is currently not compulsory for schools to deliver PSHE or SRE lessons. At the same time, there is evidence that both the time allocated to and quality of any lessons that do take place is diminishing.
Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary said:
“Every day we are seeing more evidence that access to new media and technology is creating new and unprecedented risks for young people. Yet David Cameron refuses to act and the last time guidance for schools was published was before the smartphone generation were even born.
“Youngsters are being pushed into adult territory well before they are ready. Sexting among children is skyrocketing, they are easily straying into sinister corners of the internet leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, and shockingly children as young as 13 are starting to use dating and hook-up apps. Far more needs to be done to equip young people with the resilience and knowledge they need to stay healthy and safe in relationships both off and online, and to spot the signs and feel confident to report manipulation and exploitation.
“If we fail to take action and support our young people with these issues now, there is a real chance this could impact school work and limit opportunities later down the line. So it is only right that there is dedicated time in the curriculum for providing young people with the information and knowledge that will help to keep them healthy and safe. Yet, time and time again the Tories have refused to make Personal Social Health and Economic education, the subject that could act as the vehicle for this information, compulsory in all state-funded schools. If David Cameron refuses to act on this issue, it will be one of the first things Labour does in government.”
Today Lucy Powell MP has published a dossier revealing a ticking time-bomb of issues that young people must try to navigate today, without the support that they need. This includes:
· Sexualisation of children: New figures from Freedom of Information requests to police forces show the number of reported incidents of children under 16 ‘sexting’ has skyrocketed by 1204 per-cent nationally over the past two years. Access to new media and technology has created new and unprecedented risks – shockingly around one in six children are now accessing the app ‘Tinder’, which is essentially aimed at dating and ‘hook-ups’. Almost half of these children are aged 15 and under.
· Radicalisation: Recent events have shown that the risks to young people being targeted by radical groups have risen. Extremists are using social media platforms to identify, target and contact young people, with the intention of poisoning their minds with their extreme ideology. Far more needs to be done to equip young people with the resilience and knowledge they need to stay safe online and feel confident to report when they feel that they may be being manipulated and exploited.
· Child mental health: The number of children turning up in A&E with mental health problems is now more than double what it was in 2010. Around 3 children in every classroom now has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Schools are having to manage a growing crisis in young people's mental health and the decreasing access to expert support is making their jobs so much harder.
· Substance misuse: A Home Office report published last summer warned that one in 20 young people took the illegal class A drug ecstasy last year - the highest level for over a decade. This shock rise of almost 100,000 16-to-24-year-olds taking the drug reverses years of falling use. The same report revealed that over 1 million young people admitted using cannabis in 2014/15 – a rise of 21 per cent since 2012/13. Young people suffer disproportionately from alcohol-related accidents and injuries, especially after binge-drinking.
It is vital that we intervene early and tackle the root cause of these issues, long before they are allowed to turn into crises in a young person’s life. At a meeting of Labour’s Education and Children Policy Commission later today, Ms Powell will table a motion with the following policies for the next Labour Government:
· Make PSHE, including age-appropriate Sex and Relationships education, statutory in all state-funded primary and secondary schools, to equip young people with the resilience and knowledge they need to stay safe and healthy both off and online.
· A new, updated programme of study to reflect the challenges young people face today, including new guidance on SRE, updated to reflect new media and the passage of legislation such as the same-sex marriage act. The new guidance will have minimal prescription of content and include flexibility for schools to deal with local issues so that they can properly address the issues most relevant to their pupils.
· Drive up standards in the subject, with a new generation of PSHE leaders in every school to share best practice and ensure that all children have the information and knowledge they need to stay healthy and safe.