Empowering young people to say 'no'.
News from OfSTED that 'harassment is now the norm in our schools', makes challenging reading for all of us. Young people are being pressurised into sexting, sending images they will regret in later life, doing things they may feel uncomfortable with, and are being forced into accepting certain behaviours as 'normal', when they are anything but. So what can school leaders do to rise to this challenge which calls so powerfully for a response?
Fortunately, there are excellent materials available, and for a number of years I have been a strong supporter of the work of APAUSE. This sex education programme, supported by the University of Exeter has been one of the few sex education programmes to have made a real impact, and materials I have helped design have owed a great deal to their approach.
Successful sex education involves training peer educators, links with health visitors, and teachers committed to tackling the issues head on. The approach in encouraging young people to say 'no' to what they are not ready for, or do not want, is empowering and encourages young people to find a strong voice. It is crucial to only use teachers who are committed to the material and who have a specialist interest in this key work. Once up and running, peer mentor training systems can be adapted and used to engage young people in this work and encouraging others to find their voice. APAUSE is a programme that has been shown to delay the onset of sexual activity amoung young people, and boosts confidence and self esteem.
The teenage pregnancy unit at the Dept for Education has written a very helpful evaluation of the programme, and I would strongly advise schools to look at this material closely. We are in a world of shocking statistics about the pressures faced by young people from being pressurised into sending nude photos, to the seeming acceptance of harassment into the mainstream. There are however things we can do quickly and effectively to meet these challenges head on, and the APAUSE programme as part of your sex education offering is one clear response schools can make to support young people in a challenging and sadly pressurised sexual environment.