How sex and relationship education has changed in Scottish primary schools

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The school curriculum has historically offered little help, often steeped in shame and taboo.

But that has changed, and many parents now see their children learning subjects they were never taught – especially in primary school.

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This can lead to “panic,” when told that relationship, sexual health and parenting (RSHP) education is approaching, according to Megan McCrossan, an elementary school teacher with 14 years of experience and RSHP advocate. with the EIS union.

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But some parents are reassured to be able to access the content of online courses, and in any case they are no longer authorized to unsubscribe.

“I think it’s really important for kids to know what changes are going to happen in the body,” Ms McCrossan said.

“For a lot of parents, the experience in school was when you were 15 or 16 in biology and you got an interview with a nurse and that was about it.

“I think a lot of parents freak out and think we’re going to tell the kids how to have sex, but it’s really not like that.”

RSHP lessons begin in Primary 1 with body parts and progress to relationships, periods, pregnancy, gender and sexuality and sex and consent, among other topics.

Whereas in the past, boys and girls were given different information, now they are taught the same, avoiding “playground misinformation”.

Lisa Hallgarten, policy and public affairs manager at Brook, a UK-wide charity providing sex health and education services to young people, said it was “really vital” that children begin to learn about healthy relationships in elementary school.

“As children grow, education prepares them for puberty and all the physical and emotional changes they might expect,” she said.

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“Some girls start getting their periods at age nine or rarely even before. There’s nothing scarier than getting your period before you’ve been told what it is.

Primary schools can play a key role in helping parents educate their children and answer often “difficult” questions, she added.

The NSPCC has also emphasized the importance of teaching children about consent and healthy relationships.

“In an average primary school classroom, at least two students have been abused or neglected, so it’s extremely important that children have the knowledge and skills to speak up if something is wrong,” a doorman said. speech.

Zero Tolerance Scotland, which works to end male violence against women and girls in Scotland, points out that much more needs to be done to improve RSHP education, and that sexual harassment in secondary schools offers proof that better education is needed in primary schools.

Teaching RSHP can be “intimidating,” admits Ms. McCrossan.

But while you may squirm later in the staff room, teachers should show confidence in front of children, making lessons as comfortable as possible so they feel free to ask questions.

And after years of experience, she enjoys teaching this subject.

She’s had ‘very, very interesting questions’ from kids aged 10 and 11 and allows herself to laugh with the kids, who she says often enjoy the excitement of covering ‘taboo’ topics and get a lot out of it. the lessons.

Catherine Salmond, Editor-in-Chief, Scotland on Sunday

“Today we learned about masturbation, periods and boners,” my nine-year-old son said as he sat down at the bottom of the stairs and kicked off his school shoes.

It wasn’t what I expected when I asked him how his day was, but I loved his confidence, so I encouraged him to tell me more. Strike up a relaxed and sometimes humorous conversation about the topics, all of which had been discussed in his P5 class that day as part of the school’s health and wellbeing lessons.

How awesome is that? I was thinking. He is only nine years old, but apparently indifferent to what is often such an embarrassing subject that, certainly when I was at school, many children would have recoiled at the very thought of talking about it to their parents.

The next day, while on the run to school, I found out that a friend of my son’s had asked his mother if she had ever consented to sex. The following week, puberty, mood swings and wet dreams were the topics of the day. The technical details of the reproduction come next.

I wish it had been like this when I was nine. How much would that have made my adolescence easier? How much better would it have been for the girl I knew who started her period not knowing what was going on, petrified by the changes in her body?

Back then – in the mid-1990s – the boys were sent off to play rounders while the ‘Tampon Lady’ came in to discuss menstruation with us 11-year-old girls, causing silence, embarrassment and almost no questions from the crowd. We returned home armed with a supply of free sanitary napkins and tampons, but mortified to have them in our bags.

Things in high school weren’t much better. Sex was taught as a superficial act performed in romantic relationships, and none of the issues surrounding it – consent, sexual health, abuse – received special attention.

Pregnancy was a no-no, something to be feared – yet the different ways to prevent it never got the attention they should have.

I am absolutely thrilled that my nine year old son is learning the ways of the world now and that his teachers seem to be doing it so brilliantly, removing any embarrassment or shame.

This can only bode well for her generation: their mental and sexual health, preventing unwanted pregnancies, understanding abuse, and respecting their own bodies and those of others.

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