Today is Valentine’s Day. Today is also the day where One Billion Rising will be undertaking events all over the world to call for the end to violence against women and girls.
As part of this, there is a cross-party debate in Parliament today for sex education to include information about abuse and appropriate relationships. A recent article in The Guardian saw that young people going through secondary school now are still concerned about the quality of Sex Education they receive, saying that “…SRE is too much about sexually transmitted infections (STI) and saying no, and not enough about feelings and relationships.”
Sex Education has changed massively even since I was at school (which wasn’t that long ago!) Sex Ed in the 90s usually consisted of the biology approach, the classic video of a woman giving birth and giggling over the “reproduction” section of our science text books. If there was any more to it then I don’t remember it. We didn’t put a condom on a banana, we didn’t look at STIs or contraception. In fact, all my information about anything that wasn’t biology came from Just Seventeen magazine and their endless and brilliant articles, booklets and information on everything to do with sex, relationships and general Growing Up Stuff. It was invaluable. However, that was then. Now, young people are a lot more clued up on all thing sex, and usually in a very positive way. From my experience working with young people in a variety of settings, most of them will know how to access free condoms, they’ll know about the implant, the injection or the pill and they’ll know how to protect themselves. A lot of schools are part of condom distribution and C Card schemes, those who have a school nurse are able to offer contraception services right there in the school for young people to access for free. It’s definitely come a long way. Young people are clued up.
But judging by the information coming from newspaper reports and campaigns like One Billion Rising, Sex Education needs to change again. Issues around healthy relationships, abuse and exploitation are not being covered, meaning that although we’re equipping our young people with the practical knowledge and equipment to keep themselves from getting an STI and avoiding unwanted pregnancy, we’re not equipping them mentally for the impact of having a relationship. The self-respect to say no, the means to keep themselves free from exploitation. And it’s not only for the girls! Young men need to be taught these things just as much as young women. The internet means that young people have access to a whole load of sexually explicit stuff a lot earlier, and they get extremely mixed and skewed messages as to what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. Respect, mutual consent and communication are not messages that young people usually pick up from pornography. They need an education that teaches them about relationships in the real world, not the one they might access through their computer.
But of course, for any improvement to Sex Education to happen, there needs to be a requirement for a high level of competency in the delivery of Sex Ed across the board. It should be a progressive process across education, teaching age-appropriate relationships education to kids from a young age. It should be required teaching. If young people are taught to respect and value themselves from a young age, it will be part of their development into an adult. It’s completely possible to teach sex and relationships education in whatever cultural or religious setting the young person is in, without indoctrinating them into believing sex is wrong, immoral, dirty or a taboo. In fact, teaching those things often means young people will find it more intriguing. Talking openly about sex and relationships removes the mystery and stops it from being a taboo. Facts are facts, and there’s still space within SRE to encourage discussion and debates around sex and morals as that’s what helps young people form their own opinions and make their own choices.
It’s time for Sex Education to take another step in its development. In order for this to happen I believe a number of things need to be put in place:
– Sex Education needs to be compulsory in secondary school. There needs to be a basic curriculum around sex, STIs, contraception and relationships that is compulsory teaching.
– Every school should have access to a professional who is trained in teaching PSHE to the appropriate level, and who is capable of delivering that curriculum.
– PSHE needs to focus just as much on relationships, sexuality, abuse and exploitation, and online safety as it does on STIs and contraception.
– People need to recognise that teaching young people about sex and relationships means they have knowledge to make decisions about their life, it means they are empowered to keep themselves safe and it stops sex from being an illicit taboo.
Sex Education has come on a lot since I was at school, but it needs to keep developing and progressing along with young people’s needs. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and think that if we don’t talk about it then it’s not a problem. I’m hoping that the Government stops sticking on this issue and makes a proper step forwards on Sex Education.
On Saturday, I travelled over to London to join 149,999 other people to march through central London. All the usual groups were there – unions, public sector organisations, politicians, campaigners, activists, anarchists – and together we walked through the streets of London to Hyde Park, where speakers at the rally talked about the actions of the government and how everyone was being screwed. For me, it was definitely exciting to see so many people who are so angry enough with the way things are to travel across the country by the coach-load to shout and wave banners.
But what now. There’s been calls for a general strike, sure, but for me personally it definitely made me think about my profession and what’s going to happen with it. Balloons and placards called to save the NHS, protect teaching and nursing and all of those essential public services that means we can function in society. But what about youth work? Well, youth work’s already gone. Who has a youth service any more? They came in and wiped youth work away before people were able to react and shout about it. Granted, some places did create a lot of fuss and did a lot of work to save their youth service but a lot of the time? It was taken away before anyone had really noticed.
And that’s terrible. That’s really terrible. A support network for young people all over the country just gone, with no big fanfare and barely any consultation (or tokenistic consultation at the very best). To me that just shows the way young people are thought of. We can just take away their services. No big deal.
We’re living in a very different culture now, as youth workers. And it’s up to us to jump and shout now and draw attention to what’s happened, and draw attention to how things need to progress from here. Youth work is already in danger of becoming diluted with other services, so if we don’t work hard to keep youth work as a vitally important profession as itself, we risk losing it completely. That’s why I’m hoping people will take part in Blogging for Youth Work Week in November, that’s why youth workers need to be championing the fantastic work they do and encouraging other youth workers to do the same.
Going on the march was a great experience but lots of people have said it’s pointless. That marching will achieve nothing. Well, maybe not directly. Cameron will not look out his window in Parliament, see thousands of people marching through the streets and say “Oh my goodness! I’ve made a terrible mistake!” But I figure that taking no action means you don’t disagree. Marching at least shows that people care. I’m more than willing to march again if I have to.
This Saturday, I’m going to somehow manage to take myself off to London to take part in A Future That Works. I went to the previous one, which was HUGE, and so it only seems fit that I went to this one. The previous march was titled March For The Alternative, meaning of course that there was an alternative to the austerity measures the government is imposing on the country (I’m looking at you Vodafone) and the aim of this march is to give the message that the government needs to look at proper job creation (and I mean proper jobs, rather than people working for nothing) and to build an economy rather than taking things away from people who cannot afford to have things taken away, either financially or socially.
So. What will I be shouting about on Saturday? I will be shouting about the terrifying way the government is targeting young people, and in doing so completely screwing up any chance we can fix this crisis in the future. Two local authority youth services that I have worked with have gone in the last year and a half, either to move to referral-only work or have their work commissioned out to the private sector. The government have got rid of Education Maintenance Allowance, meaning that young people who are at college have lost a lot of financial support. It costs a fortune to go to university, jobs are scarce (when companies will actually pay you, see above) and the government is now slowly eroding away the amount of support you get to actually start by extending the restrictions on Housing Benefit until you’re 35 years old. If you come from a background where your family will find it difficult to support you financially (which at the moment will be a lot of young people) you will find it so difficult to become properly trained, get a good career and move out into the world.
It’s not a case of “workshy scroungers” or blaming the parents for their children not achieving. This is not a case of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” or getting on your bike and looking for work. This is a case of the government not valuing, or even caring about young people. We are not preparing young people for the big wide world. If young people are reaching their mid-twenties with little to no qualifications, unable to move out of their parent’s home and unable to find a career then how will this ever solve the money issues we’re facing? In ten years time, when the 15-year-old GCSE students become the 25-year-old benefit claimants, how will we have done anything to serve them and give them what they so rightly deserve? People love to wax lyrical about all those nasty benefit claimants – why are we not making sure our young people have a good start now, so that they have the opportunities and support to achieve not just in a work capacity, but to raise their aspirations and build their confidence. This isn’t done by the government pulling away any support they had, this is done by throwing support at young people by the bucketful.
We need job creation for young people that pays a decent wage. The workfare scheme needs to be abolished, and young people need to be paid properly for work. This means they will start being financially active citizens paying back into the economy! Isn’t that what the government want? They need to be involved with agencies that boost their aspirations, good careers advice that give them access to courses and training so they can be a mechanic/barrister/doctor/CEO of their own company. We need professionals to support those young people who come from challenging backgrounds, those who have alcohol and drugs issues. Give them support now through social housing, good housing benefit support and a positive start for them to make it on their own and you will have people who are achieving and paying those good healthy taxes that make HMRC so very happy. And how will we afford to give all this support? Well a cool £6bn from Vodafone would be a good start.
If we don’t do something now, it will come back and bite us. We will not solve the crisis in the economy by pulling money and support away from those who will be the next generation bringing income into the country. All it will do is leave those people even worse off. But of course by then Cameron, Osbourne et. al. will be off in their glorious retirements. Not having to worry about the unemployment figures.
We have to invest in our young people. That is why I’m marching on Saturday.
So. I’m starting a thing.
It all started a couple of week back when another youth worker called Emily and I started having a Twitter conversation about, well, youth work as it happens. I think the conversation started from a comment somewhere about youth workers and teachers having the same training. We both felt pretty strongly that youth work was a profession in itself with its own skills, and that it was slowly but surely becoming more diluted with other professions like teaching, social work and various support roles.
I thought that youth workers needed to stand up and shout a bit about the job they do. I know they DO stand up and shout about it, quite often, but that any extra opportunity wouldn’t go amiss. So, seeing as it’s going to be Youth Work Week at the beginning of November, what better time to do it.
I myself have been part of other “Blogging days” such as Blogging against Disablism Day or Blogging for LGBT families day so I thought a “Blog week” would be the perfect opportunity for youth worker bloggers to do what they already do (blog their little hearts out) but make a campaign out of it.
I really want this to be an opportunity for youth workers from a variety of youth work backgrounds to come together and give their view on what’s happening to their profession. Maybe it won’t work at all, it could end up being me all on my own, I don’t know. But I hope it does work.
So here we are. Blogging for Youth Work Week. Please please pass the word around and take part. The more people we have writing about how important and vital youth workers are, the bigger impact we hope to have!