A few months ago I deposited my Biology Method Course Notes in the archive at King’s College, London. I trained as a teacher there in the era of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives and Nuffield Science, and my tutor was Dorothy Dallas (or D.D. as she always signed off). As author of Sex Education in School & Society as well as innovative resources for young people such as Who’s Normal?, Pregnant at 11, and Very Dangerous Diseases, she made sure that the newly-minted biology teacher (me) was well equipped to teach sex education, which I did, and still do.
But when I look back I realise she helped me learn something even more valuable, how a grasp of scientific concepts is essential for making sense of the world. A sound understanding of reproductive biology must underpin good sex and relationships education, and the basic concepts must be acquired early in the child’s education. If you understand that humans are part of an evolutionary sequence beginning with simple, aquatic organisms and that when sex evolved it gave organisms more chances of surviving turbulent environments, you see that human genitalia, copulation, pregnancy and child care are all highly effective adaptations. This also has the beneficial effect of showing that humans are part of nature and not above it, and subject to what D.D. called ‘Nature’s Gigantic Plot’. Sir David, our No 1 National Treasure, knows all about this: I’m sure he’d like everyone to get it too.
So I am genuinely perplexed by the Government’s new draft national curriculum science, especially for primary children: it will include the only facts about the human reproductive cycle that all children (that is, all children except those in academies, free schools and independent schools) will have to learn. And yet the narrative is patchy and incomplete: no naming of genitalia, penis, vulva and vagina; no details about puberty as preparation for a key human life-cycle change; shifting to the older age group ideas about reproduction as a life process common to humans and other animals; no mention of micro-organisms and how their transmission can cause disease, essential for answering questions about HIV & AIDS. And yet ‘They should be encouraged to be curious and ask questions about what they notice’ – like the differences between girls and boys, for example?
Does the 21st century child need to be scientifically literate? I think so! Way back then I was teaching sex education based on these concepts – it wasn’t quite the 50s but shouldn’t we be moving forward by now? I hope everyone will get behind our campaign for open, honest sex education for all.
Back to D.D. – whilst biological concepts run through me like Margate through rock, it wasn’t the only thing I learned through her. There’s group work, learning through doing, trigger films, visual perception, and EPR (Education for Personal Relationships)…but that’s another story……
Chair, Sex Education Forum