LGBT+ issues? Consent? Nah, let’s teach kids how to put a condom on a banana.
Remarkably, that classic sex and relationships education (SRE) lesson was taught to Bryony Walker, a campaigns director at feminist group Level Up, her 13-year-old sister and her 87-year-old grandmother.
The SRE banana-condom task may be a running joke, yet it has a serious punchline: SRE is woefully out-of date. That’s why Level Up is launching a new campaign, taking advantage of a recent governmental consultation on how to improve SRE after leaving it untouched for 17 years, a length of time education secretary Justine Greening called “unacceptable”.
Bryony Walker agrees that the government consultation was urgently needed not just now but years ago, telling indy100:
The advice that they're getting just isn't appropriate for the 21st century.
The drive to SRE in schools comes in the wake of the rallying cry of #MeToo and, at home in England, the soaring number of reported sexual assaults carried out by children. Consent classes in Kenya reduced instances of sexual harassment, a pattern that Level Up believes should be better exploited in England. Walker told indy100:
If we started teaching people about consent, we'd start to see positive shifts there.
What is taught in schools to young people is a root cause of a lot of sexism that manifests in society.
We're saying the toppling of it now and people are starting to come out and talk about their experiences.
In the dawn of #MeToo, we view this as an extremely concrete way for us to have a positive impact on society.
Walker is hopeful for change, but expects resistance from a "vocal, organised lobby fighting for so-called traditional or family values". Earlier this year, the Church of England pushed for abstinence to be taught in schools, a call that Walker accepts as a valid life choice but remains wary about the effect on children if it is taught as the only, or superior, option. She said:
We don't feel this fits modern Britain... It's a valid life choice, but we don't think it should be taught to young people as the sole option.
Level Up - along with Stonewall and other organisations - is also fighting to require all schools to ensure that their teaching includes LGBT+ people and issues facing them. For example, representing different types of families (including same-sex parents), explained Walker.
If you talk about LGBT+ people in schools, those kids that are LGBT+ are going to feel much more included, and in society in turn, and those that aren't are going to more easily empathising with them and more aware of homophobia.
The ways in which the world is changing - and that Level Up believes SRE needs to respond to - have been creeping into children's lives for years. For example, kids are now seeing porn by their early teenage years and more than three-quarters of children surveyed by the NSPCC felt porn failed to help them understand consent.
SRE is now compulsory in every school in 2019. With it, Level Up is calling for consent, LGBT+ issues and online safety to be central, and immovable, in every child's curriculum too.