Dilemmas of school-based relationships and sexuality education for and about consent

Case Studies & Research
15 p.
Periodical title
Sex Education, July 2020

In 2018, reflecting in this journal on the arrival of the ‘age of consent’ into sexuality education, Jen Gilbert questioned what would happen to a concept drawn in part from legal contexts, but partly also driven by the passion of feminist activists, when it met the demands and logics – the learning outcomes and lesson plans – of the classroom. This article offers one response, drawing on qualitative data from two whole-school sexual health programmes, Positive Choices and Project Respect, piloted in secondary schools in England between 2017 and 2019. It describes how each addressed the issue of consent and focuses on specific ‘moments’ that illuminate some of the challenges of doing so for both staff and students. The analyses aim to contribute to the practice of relationships and sexuality education in schools by helping educators to anticipate, understand and therefore better address the dilemmas that teaching for and about consent might encounter. The authors argue that these dilemmas relate both to broader (and gendered) ideas of consent and entitlement, and to issues specific to schools. However, they also argue that a more theorised account of the school helps to identify the minor achievements that are nonetheless possible.

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