More time urged for sex education to prevent pupils sharing explicit images

Pupils are under pressure to share images of themselves, the National Education Union’s annual conference heard.

Catherine Lough
Wednesday 13 April 2022 11:59
(PA)
(PA)

Teachers have called for more time to be allocated for sex education to prevent pupils sharing explicit images of themselves.

At the National Education Union’s annual conference in Bournemouth, teachers called for schools to have high-quality relationships and sex education (RSE), and for schools and colleges to have the time to fully embed this in the curriculum.

One teacher said that Year 11 girls at his school had been pressured by their boyfriends into sharing images of themselves, and that this had exposed gaps in how the school approached RSE.

Children and young people may not have the critical analysis or maturity to understand or cope well with exposure to pornography.

Mary Bousted

Member Amy Fletcher said that pornography was having a harmful impact on her pupils and that porn was “laced with sexist, heteronormative, racist and ableist tropes”.

She said it perpetuated “damaging and degrading views towards women”.

“We can’t ignore that many of the ideas of the types of sex children want to try after watching porn may be violent,” she said.

Member Jon Reddiford said: “We had a really horrible set of incidents in my school in last year’s Year 11.

“I think it was going on for a long time before it started to emerge to staff that a number of the girls were taking explicit photos of themselves and sending it to their boyfriends, which later were being shared around.

“It later then emerged that some pressure was being put on the girls from their boyfriends to do this, and when we started unpicking it a little bit more that was definitely the case,” he said.

He said the school had “frankly treated it as a behaviour issue” and that while this may have been the case, “a bigger picture needed to be tackled”.

“The fact that these kind of images were easily available to 15 and 16-year-olds, and the fact that there wasn’t the space in school to discuss them in a way that is appropriate for teenagers… made it much harder for us to deal with it,” he said.

“We had to go back to square one, and also think about what we were doing with our Year 7s and Year 8s in terms of the RSE curriculum, so that this kind of thing, number one, hopefully wouldn’t happen again, and number two, could be dealt with in a way that didn’t involve disciplinary procedures,” he said.

The NEU raised concerns over “the prevalence of pornography which shows the harmful and humiliating treatment of women”.

They cited a 2021 Ofsted report which found that 90% of girls and 50% of boys had reported that either they or their peers had been sent explicit pictures they did not wish to see “a lot” or “sometimes”.

A 2019 report from the British Board of Film Classification found that two thirds (66%) of 14 to 15-year-olds had seen porn compared with 51% of 11 to 13-year-olds.

The NEU said that high-quality RSE delivered by trained staff was needed and that pupils needed to be given the space to question and challenge pornography.

Incidents of sexual harassment also needed to be consistently recorded and reported, including online abuse and violence, the NEU said, in order to intervene as early as possible to prevent abuse.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said that it was important society understood that porn was now “very readily available” with significant numbers of teenagers viewing porn online or hearing about this from their peers.

She added that young children could end up seeing porn by accident or “because of algorithms” rather than because they were seeking out explicit content.

“The majority of pornography projects a distorted view of sex and sexual relationships and it should be a matter of concern that mainstream sites regularly feature violent acts against women and girls, incest and racism,” she said.

“Children and young people may not have the critical analysis or maturity to understand or cope well with exposure to pornography.”

Dr Bousted said that this could lead to young people having a “distorted view” of relationships and that this could place pressure on young people.

“For many teenagers this is another source of intimidation, pressure and confusion.”

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