Baker, Michael Allan
Discursive formations in sex and relationships education: an analysis of students’, teachers’ and parents’ perceptions about how and why sex and relationships education is taught in schools.
University of Southampton, School of Education,
This research examined the perceptions of students, teachers and parents from one school in the South East of England about how and why sex and relationships education (SRE) was taught in their school. The research is framed around the underlying aims, assumptions and discourses within SRE.
This research found a disparity between what the teachers thought they had taught, and what the students experienced. The students, teachers and parents all advocated the benefit of schools being able to provide ‘balanced’ SRE compared with other sources. However, this balance was interpreted
differently as teachers and parents wanted a greater emphasis on the negative health outcomes of sexual relationships in order to ‘balance out’ the perceived unrealistic and overly positive messages the students may receive through the media.
Students, teachers and parents all wanted loving, stable relationships to be promoted and casual relationships discouraged; although marriage was not seen as particularly important. Students wanted to talk about homosexual
relationships and aspects of love and desire; however, teachers struggled to find an appropriate way to do this. Both students and teachers felt the use of outside speakers were an effective way of teaching SRE — not only because they were experts in the field, but also due to the degree of ‘relational distance’.
From analysing the perceptions of the students, teachers and parents, a public health discourse, delivered through a rational educational approach, was identified as being the most dominant discursive formation. This discourse places an emphasis on controlling sexual behaviour in order to reduce sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teenage pregnancies. A conservative discourse based on a traditionalist view of sexual relationships and an empowerment discourse were also present but they appeared to be less dominant, whereas other discourses such as libertarian and discourses of desire were virtually absent from the perceptions of how SRE was delivered in this school. The recommendations are that there is a need for further debate about the aims of SRE in relation to the dominance of public health and that interactive teaching methods and outside speakers/ teachers are utilised more to teach SRE.
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