Coalition of 50+ VAWG Experts warns against the politicisation of sex education

Solace have joined 53 other organisations, coordinated by End Violence Against Women, to call on the Education Secretary to ensure that the upcoming review of Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) is based on what young people need. RSHE plays a crucial role in challenging the attitudes that tolerate violence against women and girls, and we are seeking assurance that it will not be unnecessarily politicised.


Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP
Secretary of State for Education


Relationships, Sex, and Health Education Statutory Guidance Review 

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to you as a coalition of more than 50 organisations working in the specialist Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector and in education. We have extensive collective experience of supporting survivors of all forms of VAWG, and working in schools to prevent abuse. You will know that schools are an absolutely critical site for the protection of girls and they present the best opportunity to challenge attitudes which condone abuse, and transform the long-term likelihood of abuse in adult relationships. We are, therefore, writing to seek your reassurances that the upcoming review of the statutory guidance on Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) is driven and guided by a commitment to ensuring all young people receive the education they need to thrive in life and to feel safe, and to tackle the cultural norms which underpin the epidemic of gender-based violence we see today. 

In the wake of a number of devastating and high-profile murders of women, the exposure of misogyny and racism in our police forces, and the rising impact of online misogynist influencers – the government has often restated its commitment to tackling violence against women and girls. Prevention work, including RSHE, is a critical part of the government’s Tackling VAWG Strategy – which commits that the Department for Education will better support teachers to deliver the RSHE curriculum. As such, we were keenly awaiting the scheduled review of the RSHE statutory guidance, which we now understand the government intends to bring forward by a number of months.

In light of recent headlines – which have the potential to incite opposition to much needed RSHE delivery in schools, we are seeking assurances that the upcoming review will not be unnecessarily politicised, and will be focused on what children and young people need to live happy and healthy lives, and the urgent need to do more to tackle VAWG and the rising influence of online misogyny in schools.

The specialist VAWG sector – with a long history of delivering evidence-based and trauma-informed interventions with children and young people – must have a critical role in delivering RSHE if the government seeks to fulfil its commitment to tackling VAWG. As organisations developing and delivering such interventions, the quality and age-appropriateness of lessons and resources is of utmost importance to us. It is essential that the specialisms of the sector are valued and included in any future plans for the delivery of RSHE nationally.

The inclusion of the specialist VAWG sector must also be coupled with the support and resourcing teachers need. In 2019, the government announced that schools would receive access to a £6 million training and support package in the roll out of RSHE. However, we understand that only £3.2 million out of the original £6 million promised has been delivered. Furthermore, a survey by the National Education Union (NEU) in 2019 noted that half of teachers said they lack confidence to teach compulsory RSHE lessons. This picture does not appear to have shifted with recent research by Safe Lives noting that teachers felt “time, resources and school prioritisation presented major barriers to effective delivery”. It is therefore essential that work to improve RSHE is accompanied by sufficient funding and resourcing, and support for teachers. 

Finally, and most critically, the upcoming review must listen to the voices of children and young people. A survey by the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) found that 80% of girls think schools need to do more to tackle sexual harassment and support young people’s sex and relationships education. In a recent Sex Education Forum poll, the topics children and young people felt had not been covered enough or at all included power imbalances in relationships (58%), pornography (58%), culture and faith-based perspectives (57%), LGBTQ+-relevant information (54%), the attitudes and behaviour of boys and men towards women and girls (55%), and what a healthy relationship looks like, including online relationships (54%). Furthermore, research from both Safe Lives and Sex Education Forum noted that children and young people want to see more open discussions in RSHE. In light of emerging evidence about the extent to which young people are being exposed to misogynistic influencers online and increasingly looking to porn to fill the gaps in sex education, we urge you to commit to providing teachers with much-needed support and resources to hold space for young people to openly discuss these themes. We cannot afford the cost to these young people, and for wider society, of shutting these conversations down.

As the Secretary of State for Education, we look forward to hearing from you regarding the Department’s plans for RSHE and we would be keen to meet and discuss this with you further. We are asking for a commitment that RHSE guidance will be shaped by the voices and needs of children and young people, informed by the participation and expertise of the specialist VAWG sector, and will ultimately help to deliver the ambition of ending gender based violence. 

Yours sincerely, 

Andrea Simon, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition
Farah Nazeer, Chief Executive, Women’s Aid Federation of England  
Jayne Butler, Chief Executive Officer, Rape Crisis England & Wales
Ruth Davison, Chief Executive Officer, Refuge
Selma Taha, Executive Director, Southall Black Sisters
Nadia Baksh, Senior Policy and Projects Coordinator, Imkaan
Sara Kirkpatrick, CEO,  Welsh Women’s Aid
Neil Blacklock, Head of Young People’s Services, Respect
Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive, The Fawcett Society
Liz Thompson, Director of External Relations, SafeLives
Professor Vanita Sundaram, University of York
Professor Marianne Hester, University of Bristol 
Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, Deputy Director, The Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University
Professor Jessica Ringrose, UCL Institute of Education
Professor Miranda Horvath, Director of the Institute for Social Justice and Crime, University of Suffolk
Professor Aisha K. Gill, Ph.D CBE Professor of Criminology, Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol
Emily Setty, Senior Lecturer, University of Surrey
Anthea Sully, Chief Executive, White Ribbon UK
Yasmin Rehman, Chief Executive, Juno Women’s Aid
Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Executive Director, FORWARD
Gemma Tutton, Co-founder, Our Streets Now (OSN)
Sheila Coates, Director, SERICC
Kirsten Westlake, Chair, LMK – Let Me Know
Sharon Erdman, CEO, RASASC (Rape Crisis South London)
Sarah Hill, Chief Executive Officer, IDAS (Independent Domestic Abuse Services)
Maureen Connolly, CEO, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid 
Janet Dalrymple, CEO, Safer Places 
Ruth Norman Mason, Director of Training and Innovation, AVA
Dolly Padalia, CEO, School of Sexuality Education
Claire Bloor, CEO SARSAS (Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support)
Medina Johnson, Chief Executive, IRISi
Emma Slinn, UsToo, Association For Real Change (ARC)
Bekah Legg, CEO, Restored
Jackie May, CEO, The Women’s Centre Cornwall
Zlakha Ahmed, CEO, Apna Haq
Halaleh Taheri, Founder & Executive Director of Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation-MEWSO
Jabeer Butt, CEO, Race Equality Foundation 
Elizabeth Crompton, Founder and CEO, Allyship
Alison Boydell, co-founder, JURIES
Sarbjit Ganger, Director, Asian Women’s Resource Centre
Molly Lawrenson, CEO, Young Abuse Support
Gurpreet Virdee, Co-Director, Women and Girls Network
Bernadette Keane, Interim CEO, Solace Women’s Aid 
Mia Hassenson-Gross, Executive Director, René Cassin 
Lucy Emmerson, Chief Executive, Sex Education Forum 
Fizza Qureshi, CEO of the Migrants’ Rights Network
Diana Nammi, Executive Director, IKWRO – Women’s Rights Organisation
Natasha Eeles, Founder, Bold Voices
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
David Wright, CEO, SWGfL
Sonia Jalal, Founder, Hull Sisters
Vicky Marsh, Safety4Sisters
Andrea Kilvington, CEO,  Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse
Susie McDonald, CEO, Tender Education & Arts

14th March 2023

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