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Probation frustrations and sex education reforms

Posted: Friday 1st March 2019
Blog: March
Rightly there’s been a lot of criticism of the government’s part-privatisation programme of probation services over the past couple of weeks. We are the area which so far has suffered the largest blow with Working Links (Employment), which covered the south west going into administration. The services offered by Working Links under the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) was designed to help rehabilitate lower risk offenders when they leave prison. Along with my regional PCC colleagues we were extremely disappointed when that Secretary of State for Justice turned down our offer to help and support Working Links with a public sector solution. This latest news only comes months after a damning report concluding an eight-month inquiry by the Justice Committee which described “a probation system that is currently a mess”, and may threaten public safety. In that report it said some private CRCs were monitoring offenders on the telephone, with overstretched staff handling up to 150 cases each. I’ve long been concerned about the issues with the CRCs and before that the proposals to privatise parts of the public sector national probation service. I hope the government has learned a very big lesson from this failure.

I was pleased to see the Department for Education (DfE) this week unveiled fresh guidelines for sex and health education across England including advice on relationships, cyber safety and mental health. This is something that I have been campaigning for throughout my second term as the area’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). I joined many of my PCC colleagues and public health partners in calling for personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education to be made statutory. In 2016, along with Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees we wrote to the then Education Minister Justine Greening to raise our concerns.  Now three new subjects have been created, relationships education from primary school, relationships and sex education at secondary school which is mandatory, and health education for all ages.

The long-awaited proposed changes to relationship and sex education (RSE) are the first since 2000. According to the guidelines, secondary school pupils will be taught about female genital mutilation (FGM) with a focus on awareness over its illegality and the availability of support networks. Students aged 11 and older should also be taught about other forms of “honour-based” abuse, as well as grooming, forced marriage and domestic abuse. We are fortunate to live in a world where we have access to information and have the ability to raise awareness amongst our young people of what makes a healthy relationship.  We all want our children to grow up happy and healthy, with positive relationships based on empathy and respect. I believe prevention is crucial in eradicating crimes such as domestic and sexual abuse. Teaching young people about the different forms of abuse of women and girls, and how they are connected to women’s inequality and stereotypical roles, is vital if children are really to learn how to have safe, healthy and respectful relationships. It’s essential to eliminating this behaviour for future generations to come.

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