Yesterday in Parliament, the government finally took a step towards something I have been demanding for my entire political and professional career: updated, inclusive and compulsory education on sex and relationships (RSE).
For 25 years before I became an MP, I worked with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. I can confidently say that every single person I worked with would have benefited from compulsory RSE lessons in school – a point that Jess Phillips MP made in her contribution to yesterday’s debate.
I am proud to have been a steadfast advocate for compulsory RSE throughout my time as an MP. I served on the Children and Social Work bill committee where we successfully persuaded the government that compulsory education on relationships and sex is vital to safeguard children and help them make healthy choices throughout their lives. I consider this one of my proudest successes as an MP.
But steps that schools have made to make RSE compulsory and inclusive have been met with resistance – particularly from parents wishing to withdraw their children from these lessons who have specifically stated they do not want their children learning about LGBT relationships and identities.
I utterly disagree with these objections. Withdrawing children from RSE lessons will not stop them learning about sex and relationships in the modern world. But it will prevent them from engaging with issues like relationships and human sexuality in a school classroom, and instead leave them vulnerable to exploitation, coercion and misinformation about what constitutes a safe and healthy relationship.
That’s why yesterday, I was so proud to be in Parliament and hear so many of my colleagues champion the values of inclusive and compulsory RSE – and indeed challenge the government to go further in delivering this. Our Shadow Secretary of State for Education Angela Rayner MP described education on sexuality and relationships as a “fundamental human right”, and particularly pointed to the role this could play in preventing bullying of LGBT young people in schools. And my colleagues Wes Streeting MP and Luke Pollard MP particularly moved me in their description of what having LGBT inclusive education on sex and relationships means to them as proud gay parliamentarians.
Everybody has the right to high-quality education on sexuality and healthy relationships. And everyone suffers when that right is denied – whether through patchy provision, imperfect educational resources, or from children being withdrawn from Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) lessons. I will continue to fight for RSE to be compulsory, well-resourced and inclusive for everybody – with no exceptions.