It's official. In May 2018, it was announced by Wales' education secretary Kirsty Williams that LGBTQI+ inclusive sex education is compulsory in Wales. The changes are due to be implemented from 2022 and all schools, even the religious ones, will have to provide an LGBTQI+ inclusive relationships and sexuality education system. Well good on ya Wales, it's about frickin' time and thank you for hopefully paving the way for other countries.
For too long now, LGBTQI+ sex education has been ignored by schools, leaving people completely in the dark and ill informed about sexual education and sexual health matters for members of the LGBTQI+ community. This move is huge and is especially poignant as May also marked the 30th anniversary of Section 28. What's that I hear you ask? Section 28 was an amendment to the Local Government Act of 1988 under Margaret Thatcher which banned schools and/or local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality or gay "pretended family relationships". Yeah... that was actually a thing. It was actually only dismantled in Scotland in 2001 and in the rest of the UK by 2003.
As reported by The Independent, the homophobic legislation behind Section 28 was enacted during the height of the AIDs epidemic. Basically it meant that any sort of funding related to books, educational leaflets, multi media sources, or just old fashioned teaching that was deemed to promote homosexuality was banned. Clever move guys, I am sure that stopped people being gay! Oh no wait...
So what are the changes that will be made and how will the curriculum differ from its current state? Well, currently, Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) is a part of the basic Welsh school curriculum for children aged five and over. However, up until now, the exact content of this class has been decided by the schools themselves, meaning they could conveniently ignore SRE relating to LGBTQI+ should the headteacher fancy doing so. But that's all changing now.
Firstly, Williams has confirmed that this subject will be renamed Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). Moving forward, schools will no longer get to pick and choose what they include in RSE. This is absolutely huge because it means LGBTQI+ RSE will no longer being censored in the education system.
Another crucial change that I think is very important is the ordering of the title of the class. Relationships comes first, before sex. Hold up, this is not me saying that I'm old fashioned, nor am I wearing a silver purity ring. I am a strong supporter of sex positivity, but sexual education is so often focused on the biological elements of sex and ignores the relationship side of things. So if you have zero education about what a relationship is supposed to be you are open to all sorts of issues and problems from such a young age. The new RSE model claims it will have "an emphasis on forming and maintaining healthy, happy and fulfilling relationships". Blimey, how many lives will potentially be saved by this change alone?
The new curriculum will also aim to make children aware of domestic abuse, issues of consent, and respecting diversity. This move to help children learn and understand not only the birds and the bees but also the does and the don'ts is not just important — it's vital. Williams is making no bones about it. Teachers are going to receive further training on this matter, with £250,000 being put aside for professional development.
With Wales paving the way for a well rounded, inclusive, and relationships focused education system, what does this mean for the rest of the UK? In 1988 Margaret Thatcher brought in Section 28 because she thought children were being taught that they had "an inalienable right to be gay." Now, 30 years on, Williams wants children to be taught that they have "an inalienable right to be happy". Hopefully in years to come, a more broad and diverse RSE will be made compulsory for all and provide not only an LGBTQI+ friendly education but also one that promotes happy and healthy relationships.