I have had concerns about a number of aspects of the new Welsh curriculum over recent years but in general I have bitten my tongue as I do not consider that it is helpful when former education ministers criticise the plans of their predecessors or successors.
However, I am concerned that the draft Relationships and Sexuality Education Code fails to take full account of the 2015 Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act. The draft Code will provide guidance that is statutory.
In 2014 I had to work hard in government to win support for changes in the existing ‘Gender-based Violence Bill’, that I had inherited when I became Minister for Public Services, so that it could become an Act that recognised that women and girls are disproportionately the victims of gender-based violence. Despite persistent internal opposition the changes I sought were made and the Bill became the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act.
As the outgoing National Advisers on Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence said in their Annual Plan for 2021-2 ‘prevention remains the key to eliminating violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV) and education is at its heart’.
I have read the Welsh Government’s draft Relationships and Sexuality Education Code and the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum. There is much in it to support. However, it fails to encompass the learning from and legal obligations of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act. I do not see how a statutory code which fails to mention women/men or boys/girls is compatible with that legislation or advances it.
The draft Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Statutory Guidance and Code which was the subject of consultation earlier this year did contain clear reference to the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act, the resources produced to explain the Act’s use in educational settings including the responsibilities of school governors, and the ‘legal protections that exist for all including consideration of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015’. I do not know why these references have not been carried through into the draft Code on which the Senedd votes on Tuesday.
I believe that the Act and its legal protections should be explicitly referenced and reinforced in the Code.
From 2014-15, my work to change the focus of the Gender-based violence bill to Violence against Women (and girls) came under fire from misogynists and their allies. Now I fear that the old misogynists have been joined by the new conformists who are intent on undermining the Act within the Education system. The Code is one example, but there are others. I hope that the Welsh Government, and Senedd Members, will stand up against them.