Wednesday 27 August 2014

Sex and relationship education

LibDem policy to guarantee sex and relationship education for seven and up has been published to a muted fanfare and the usual prurient response. 

Broadly the idea is to ensure that from as young an age as possible, children in all schools including academies and free schools get good solid teaching about relationships and about sex as appropriate. Part of the aim is to prevent the kind of abuse that we have seen in Rotherham by enabling children to avoid getting into difficult situations. But it is about much more than that, the ability to make sensible decisions about relationships of all kinds and in all situations. Good schools do this already, but not all schools do, and good schools find the place for this kind of education squeezed by the legal requirement to do so much other stuff. Sex and relationship education is just as important, so reluctantly, as a liberal, I accept the need to put it on as firm a footing as other educational requirements. 

One of the reasons it is necessary is because British society in general and media in particular are hopeless at setting the right tone for children to make decent decisions for themselves. This is largely because the media and the chattering elements of all classes are obsessed with sex. Predictably, all the headlines on this initiative are about “sex education”, when the full title is “sex and relationship education”. Good schools, even good nurseries, start doing relationships at a really young age, teaching how to share, how not to hit, and good schools continue the process at age appropriate levels. They need to be encouraged to do so and to keep it central to the curriculum.

I think one small adjustment to the language we use might help to make debate more purposeful and rational. We should call it “relationship and sex education” rather than the other way round. The reason is that those who most need to consider it properly stop listening as soon as they hear the word “sex”, and assume that it must be about teaching five year olds what an erection is and which holes it can go in. If the phrase were the other way round, some people might start reacting more sensibly and understanding that relationship education is properly a part of what a school teaches, and that sex education is a part of that at the appropriate time.

Wednesday 6 August 2014


I have too much stuff. I am trying to get rid of it. It's not about the space, which is lucky as I live with a squirrel. Two squirrels. And a third who was moved out but left their stuff behind. Space would be nice, but I'm reconciled to any space I empty being instantly filled by my squirrel relatives. It's more about living simply, and also more about what I acquire in the future than the possessions I have now. My motives are mixed. Partly they are a religious response to a society that judges people by their possessions, and partly they are an environmental response to the issue of sustainability. After three score years on this planet I'm slowly beginning to think all this through. And I'm going quite tentatively, as will be obvious to many people who, I am sure, have got much further than me.

I have reduced the amount of stuff I have by a considerable proportion. That is partly illusory as a lot of my downsizing has been the replacement of physical copies of books and music with electronic copies. Interesting questions arise as to whether e-books are more sustainable than paper ones...  (Apparently, they are, but I want to check exactly what is taken into account in the calculation.)

So I suppose it's partly about stuff and partly about my footprint. I could get rid of a lot of stuff, and I wouldn't miss it. But there is still stuff I would miss, much of which is darned expensive to keep going. My life has gone largely digital. I don't miss paper any more (and I really like the fact that I don't get a newspaper any more, ever). But I do want to be in touch and that involves the internet. That involves a massive capital structure of electricity generation, hardware development, mining and production of materials for manufacture, delivery of goods, even the launching of satellites into space so that I can get the signal I want, further development of the apps I use, development and agreement of protocols, construction of security systems, administration and management of the spaces I use. I could live very simply with just a mobile phone, but the scientific, industrial, economic and environmental impact behind that one device is massive.

The same in a way is true with food and drink. I could eat and drink only local produce, which would be fine for me, but a bit precious when it wouldn't work if we all did it, as there isn't enough food in the UK for all 60+ million of us. So, even if I use my local shop, I'm get supplied from a field worked by a tractor and a combine harvester, via a lorry, possibly a ship or a plane, another lorry, a distribution centre, with a  whole lot of refrigeration along the way, to another lorry that gets it to the shop I'm going to buy it from. Big footprint there. Or perhaps tyre track. And there are plenty of other examples, like drug development.

So I could change what I do a lot without having much impact on the economic and environmental structure of the world I live in. But in a way that is not the point. I'd like to find a way to consume less that would be possible not just for me but for everybody. I've no idea how far I'll manage that. But, I've started, so I'll see where I get to.