Secondary schools in Britain claiming to incorporate sexual diversity into their sex and relationship education (SRE) are in fact upholding heteronormativity, university researchers have found.
Researchers at Birmingham City University and Sheffield Hallam University discovered that same-sex practices are being positioned outside of the classroom, potentially leaving young people without a comprehensive and inclusive sex and relationships education.
Interviews conducted with SRE teachers in eight secondary schools across Yorkshire, all claiming to be inclusive of young people’s sexual diversities, almost always constructed young people as heterosexual in their discussions.
“In terms of the promotion of homosexuality and lesbianism, we don’t really get into all that”, said one teacher, who has been teaching SRE for over eight years.
“If they openly want to discuss homosexuality, I don’t think the classroom is the best place to do it”, the research participant added. “It’s something that we say if you have concerns about, we have the drop-in clinic with the school nurse.”
Current legislation for SRE in UK schools advocates inclusive provision when delivered, but isn’t obligatory.
Keeley Abbott, lecturer in Social Psychology at Birmingham City University and research lead, said: “Our findings highlight a lack of understanding amongst teachers around what constitutes real inclusivity within the context of sex and relationship education.
“Lesbian, gay and bisexual students could be being left vulnerable here with a lack of any sex education provision that is relevant for them.
“We need the Government to step in and make SRE statutory with a policy, ensuring that teachers reflect on all aspects of their SRE practice and work to an inclusive curriculum that takes account of young people’s varying sexual identities, relationships and cultural backgrounds.”
Dr Sonja Ellis, lecturer in Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, added: “Teachers also need to be aware of the various ways of imposing heteronormalizing practices through their use of terminology, and should be using words such as ‘partner’ instead of ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’.
“Teachers currently have no restrictions when deciding both their approach to and delivery of SRE. We hope that our research encourages individuals at a policy level to see that they play a crucial role in establishing a clear curriculum framework from which teachers can gain clarity and confidence.”