The Children’s Commissioner said she was “shocked” to hear “horrible” examples of some sex education materials being used in schools.
Dame Rachel de Souza told the Commons Education Committee on Tuesday that she would look into teaching relationships and sex education (RSE), and that children wanted material that was ‘thoughtful’ and ‘relevant to their age” at school.
Tory MP Miriam Cates, who sits on the committee, said constituents had written to her expressing concern about “a nine-year-old child coming home shivering, white as a sheet, because they were told taught rape in detail”.
She likened it to teaching quadratic equations to four-year-olds, and said students shouldn’t be exposed to complex and difficult conversations about sex until they’re ready.
“Of course, at some point, children need to know the reality of the world we live in and learn to protect themselves and consent,” she said.
But she questioned whether age-inappropriate CSR material “harms” children.
Dame Rachel said age-appropriate materials are “absolutely critical” and she had particularly looked at this as it relates to the online world.
She said she would examine how CSR is taught in schools, adding that Ms Cates ‘set some horrific examples’ during a debate in Westminster Hall last week.
Dame Rachel said headteachers and trusted leaders have raised concerns about the provision of quality courses on the subject, which has led to teaching being contracted out to external providers.
“We have to look at that,” she said.
Last week, Ms Cates gave a speech on CSR in which she condemned the “extreme” material distributed in schools to pupils.
She said the new CSR framework had “opened the floodgates to a whole host of outside vendors who bring sex ed material to schools, and now children across the country are being exposed to a plethora of deeply inappropriate, extremely inaccurate, sexually explicit and harmful in the name of sex education”.
Examples she gave included dice showing body parts, used to trick students into suggesting different sexual positions, and youngsters learning about ‘rough sex’, spanking and choking.
She said a parent in her constituency was “distraught” that her six-year-old had learned about masturbation at school.
Sex Education Forum materials divided children into “menstruating and non-menstruating” groups, she said, which would confuse teenage girls, while sex education provider BISH said “many people” fell in the middle of the spectrum when it came to whether they had male or female genitalia.
Ms Cates said some CSR lessons ‘actively contribute to the sexualisation and adultification of children’.
“Introducing extreme graphic or sexual material into sex education classes also reinforces the porn culture that harms our children so devastatingly,” she said.
Ms Cates said encouraging pupils to talk about intimate details with adults made them more ‘available’ and ‘susceptible’ to sexual predators.
During the debate, she said contracting out CSR education to external providers created a “wild west scenario” when it came to teaching the subject.