Nick Clegg: All teens should have access to modern sex/relationship education, wherever they go to school

When I was 17 years old, even if I’d had the nerve to ask a middle aged male politician about sex education, they’d probably have mumbled an excuse, blushed and scurried off into the distance.

So, my hero of the week is 17 year old Yas,  who phoned into Call Clegg today and asked Nick if he couldn’t do something about updating the guidance on sex education. She said that the material they were being taught was so old that it came on VHS videos. Yas is working on the Telegraph’s campaign for better sex education and has started a petition on the subject which, at the time of writing, currently has just under 20,000 signatures.

Nick was impressive in the way he answered, completely open, not at all embarrassed and showed lots of empathy. He was also clear on the split in the Coalition, with Liberal Democrats on the side of all children having access to decent sex and relationship education in all schools. He showed too that he understood the problems and pressures that freely available internet pornography put on people. In fact, Yaz said that it would be better if pupils had someone they could go to see one to one as it wasn’t easy for them, because of peer pressure, to speak out against online porn. Nick said to her:

Well, look, my own view is that yes the guidance should be updated, of course – basically for the reasons you set out.  The last time the guidance was changed was… you know, 13 years ago and the world is a very different place now.  And in many respects it’s a more liberating place, not least because of the internet; it’s also a more menacing place, I think, particularly… but not only for young girls.  The second problem is of course that… I mean, I start from the basic premise that I suspect all parents want their teenage sons and daughters to be… not just given, if you like, the biological facts of life but also to be given some sex and relationship guidance, and I think it doesn’t matter what school they go to  that should be made available to them.  At the moment there are lots of schools – academies, free schools and so on – who don’t need to follow the guidelines, even the outdated ones.  So that’s where I stand.

But I’ll be open with you, this is not shared across Government.  I haven’t been able to persuade Michael Gove and the Conservatives to move all the way on this.  They’ve moved some of the way so, for instance, there is now going to be guidance in the National Curriculum on IT classes, which has some bearing on this.  And the National Curriculum, even though that doesn’t need to be taught by all schools, does, sort of, at least raise the expectations that schools should teach this.  And Ofsted, very usefully, will be showing, what’s the best practice in all this.  So we’ve made some progress over the last two or three years.

Host Nick Ferrari asked if he couldn’t shift them further.

Well, it’s just one of the things that in Government you debate.  And, you know, what I find every day of my working life is there are some arguments where you dig your heels in and you absolutely persist until you win and there are others where you basically compromise, and we compromised a bit on this.  But I’m not going to hide from Yaz because I actually think this is something which really, really matters to teenage children.

Why, Ferrari added did David Cameron and Michael Gove not get it. Nick replied:

Well, ask them.  I mean, I’ve spoken to Michael, and he’s a perfectly intelligent bloke. I think he’s got a very well expressed and articulate view that schools shouldn’t be burdened with too many directives, if you like, from central government.  In general terms of course I support, particularly after the excessive micromanagement by previous Labour governments to the way that schools worked, his wish to liberate teachers and head teachers and do what they judge is best for their children.  But I just happen to think in this instance, given how menacing this is, particularly for young girls, my own view is this is an area where actually we do need to to both update the guidance – which was Yaz’s point – because it hasn’t been updated since 2000, and really kind of raise the expectation that all schools do this properly in the classroom.

It’s good that he understands the need for education to tackle the porn issue. It’ll be much more effective than any filter, as I have written on numerous occasions. I have my worries that neither of the amendments to the online pornography motion due to be discussed at Conference that I’ve seen adequately resolve the whole issue. One doesn’t accept the damage that porn can do and the other is too into the filters as an answer with education tagged on as an afterthought. I hope that there are better alternatives because we need to have the right policy.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Alisdair McGregor 5th Sep '13 - 3:03pm

    I welcome Nick’s statement on this, and hope that he will be able to support (if it’s selected for the debate) an amendment I and many others (including both Liberal Youth and LGBT+LDs) have put forward to motion F17 at Glasgow Federal Conference.

  • Richard Dean 5th Sep '13 - 3:28pm

    Yes they should. And earlier too, I remember making a lot of uneducated mistakes around age 8 or 9.

  • Paul Pettinger 5th Sep '13 - 10:52pm

    Well done Nick – still learning how to be a Liberal Democrat – better to finally jump on a Sex and Relationships Education bandwagon now, rather than not at all.

  • tony dawson 6th Sep '13 - 7:50pm

    I agree with Nick

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