Sex Education: How Do Teachers Decide What Is Age-Appropriate?

By Barker, Irena | Times Educational Supplement, February 14, 2020 | Go to article overview

Sex Education: How Do Teachers Decide What Is Age-Appropriate?


Barker, Irena, Times Educational Supplement


Advice on when the ‘right’ time is for young people to learn about certain aspects of sex is frustratingly vague – and it is teachers who have been left to fill in the gaps, finds Irena Barker

Is it OK to teach a Year 8 student about pornography? How about telling your Year 4 class about periods? Is 15 too late to learn about the negative consequences of unprotected sex? Everyone is likely to have a slightly different answer, different caveats and different specifications for each of these questions. Emotions, life experience, education, ideology and religion can all have a profound effect on how we feel about what pupils need to know and at what age.

That is why the government’s statutory curriculum for primary relationships education and secondary relationships and sex education puts schools and teachers in a very tricky position.

Rather than lay down, in detail, precisely what to teach and when, the guidance lists what has to be learned only by the end of each phase. It leaves it up to schools to decide when and how – and in what depth – each area is taught within that phase but specifies that teaching should be “age and developmentally appropriate”.

That phrase is a minefield for schools. While they generally welcome being given autonomy, how should schools interpret “age and developmentally appropriate” given the huge variability in the potential views among parents, teachers and the children themselves?

Route to clarity

A first stop on the route to clarity might be the Department for Education itself, but it does little to enlighten.

It says: “Our guiding principles have been that all of the compulsory subject content must be age appropriate and developmentally appropriate. It must be taught sensitively and inclusively, with respect to the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils and parents.”

No help there. How about Ofsted? The inspectorate says that it does not set expectations for what should be taught or when “beyond that required by the law”, but that it would “take into account on inspection any concerns raised by parents – to the school or directly to Ofsted – about age appropriateness.”

That suggests the parents may get a big say in what “age appropriate” really means in practice but, as Grainne Hallahan explains on page 28, dealing with parents’ views is a world of problems in itself.

So, with only this to go on from officials, what does the research into child and adolescent physical, cognitive, social and emotional development say that might help schools and teachers make their judgements?

Well, it can provide a good guide as to when to talk to pupils about the way their bodies will change with puberty: essentially, earlier is better.

The biological changes of adolescence are observed in children as young as 8 or 9, and British research found that nearly one in 10 girls aged 11 had begun menstruation. This study, based on children born between 2000 and 2002, also found that girls from the poorest backgrounds were twice as likely to have had their first period by age 11 compared with girls from the richest backgrounds.

One aspect of development that is discussed much less is the “spermarche” (perhaps because it is less easy to measure) – the age when boys first start to produce sperm. Experimental research from the 1980s suggests that this happens at a median average age of 13.4 years old.

Talking about these changes when they have already happened is unlikely to be helpful, say the experts: we need to prepare young people in advance for the changes that are going to happen.

“Education about puberty is usually confined to grades 4-6 [ages 9-12],” writes Eva Goldfarb, in a chapter she co-wrote for the 2015 book Evidence-based Approaches to Sexuality Education: a global perspective. But the professor of public health at Montclair State University in New Jersey adds: “Given that pubertal changes can occur as early as age 8 … starting that conversation even earlier is appropriate and, depending on the curiosity and maturity level, even younger children can start to learn about the bodily changes of puberty so that they are prepared when these changes come about. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Sex Education: How Do Teachers Decide What Is Age-Appropriate?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.