From what I've heard of the proposals, they seem to be uncharacteristically well thought through. It's been informed by teacher, parent and youth involvement, for a start.
You might think that's something to be pleased with (and you'd be right), but that word in italics has been niggling at me. Any details on the new curriculum are five clicks away from the front page of the DCSF website, which seems completely wrong to me - surely such significant changes should be directly linked from the "Hot Topics" info box on the homepage? Worse, only a brief and slightly misleading press release from April is to be found in the DirectGov Newsroom.
Indeed, I only found both those webpages just this second, having not been able to find anything for my previous blog post three weeks ago. Before then, my only real clue about the content of the new policy was the info box on a BBC article.
This is a controversial issue, and a significant proportion of the public are yet to be won over - I'd have thought that a charm offensive promoting the policy and making the information accessible, ought to be a priority. Especially with a General Election looming.
Yet all we see are a couple of press releases hidden away in the archives, and an independent review conducted over a year ago, which, while informative and relevant, dates from October 2008 and produced two different reports and an official Government response. Nothing as yet appears to be aimed at parents who may be understandably concerned.
All of this has made it considerably easier for certain sections of the press to wilfully mislead and conveniently omit details that demonstrate the Government have actually thought about this first (as if they needed any encouragement). And I thought that Labour were supposed to be the party of spin.
This week, the Government also launched their snappily entitled Together We Can End Violence Against Women And Girls strategy, and as part of this lessons about domestic violence will be included in the "relationships" topics of the new PSHE syllabus.
The ages at which it will be included has not been confirmed, so in theory it could be taught (in an age appropriate way, according to the Government) as early as the age of five. Let's be clear about this though. While "violence is wrong" is likely to be included at that age, very young children will not be going into much detail - that will come in secondary school. Children are not going to be left traumatised by these lessons.
The lessons are also not really a new announcement - they are part of the previously announced plan for PSHE, but they have been mentioned again because they also to tie into the Government's plan to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG). Which surely demonstrates intentions to take a coordinated and comprehensive approach on this issue.
So, how have the papers reported it? Well, let's look at them one at a time, shall we?
The Daily Mail
The Mail were my first window into the reporting of this, via Enemies of Reason, No Sleep Til Brooklands, Miss Suffragette and Amnesty (in that order) so it only feels right to start with the outraged Jan Moir.
Unsurprisingly, Moir is shown again to be a complete idiot, so I won't dwell on it much further (click the Brooklands link above if you really want to find out why). Suffice to say that she thinks we don't need to tell children that gender violence is bad, but someone really ought to do something about those pesky Muslims and their honour killings.
The main article on this, earlier in the week, was by one James Slack, who wrote on the same subject back in August. Conveniently, he doesn't mention that this is all part of a comprehensive PSHE programme (this would weaken his bizarre "feminist conspiracy" argument from the summer), but does use quotes from such balanced sources as Parents OutLoud and the Campaign for Real Education, and then cherry picks a slightly negative quote from the largely supportive Refuge at the end.
Oh, and don't pay too much attention to the results of the poll on those pages. The Daily Mail readers don't really think gender equality education is a good idea. It might have been slightly sabotaged.
The Telegraph take a very similar but what about the pesky Muslims and their honour killings line to Jan Moir, and also fail to mention that these lessons will form part of a comprehensive PSHE curriculum.
They feature typical bleatings from Civitas (who are concerned about ethnic violence but not violence amongst white people, apparently), Philip Davies (Tory MP), the Family Education Trust, and the Campaign for Real Education, with a token nod to the End Violence Against Women Coalition buried towards the bottom of the article.
I'm oddly quite often impressed by The Sun's attitude to issues like sexual health and domestic violence. One, two, three articles from the last few months highlight that they take the latter issue quite seriously, and don't bluster on about how sometimes women hit men too. Strange that they can maintain this position whilst also keeping Page 3 going.
[Edit] As Zena rightly commented on my use of the words "bluster on, etc", I should point out that the issue of domestic violence against men is just as important as against women, but too often I get annoyed by people using it as an excuse to argue to do less about violence against women, rather than to debate how old lessons about abused women can be used to help abused men.
I hope that the lessons will talk about all forms of domestic violence together without making them into separate issues, but understand that it has been reported in this way partly because of people's preconceptions, but also largely because this was in a press release specifically about violence against women and girls. That doesn't mean the lessons will definitely only be about VAWG, just that the lessons are one way in which VAWG will be tackled.
I need to be more careful about being clear about these sorts of things.[/Edit]
Their article on this issue is very brief, though they do mention that it's part of PSHE. The headline leaves a lot to be desired, however, and many of the readers' comments demonstrate the sorts of attitudes that need to be overcome.
The Guardian should be applauded for making it clear that domestic violence won't be covered entirely at the age of five, for referring to last year's independent review of sex education and for not quoting any think tanks, but it's not entirely explicit that this is part of a big PSHE plan.
They then also have two good opinion pieces on the same day, one about how promoting women's rights should be universally celebrated, and one eloquently explaining how men can promote themselves without being complete misogynist tossers.
The Independent score lots of points for making it clear that the lessons will be part of PSHE and that they will be very different at age 5 and age 15, and having a fairly good balance of opinions represented (they quote just the one think tank).
They then go on to lose all points accrued by publishing the opinion of Tim Lott, who could have at least had the decency to read about the policy before expressing himself. He hasn't even bothered to find out that his five- and seven-year-old daughters aren't going to be taught everything all at once.
His "teenage thugs don't listen to teacher anyway" excuses are deplorable, as is his assertion that telling children not to be violent is equivalent to "moral bullying".
He then goes on compare incompatible statistics to support his argument. "Victimisation of all women" is not comparable with "16-24 year old men who are victims of violence". For a start you're comparing different age groups, and then you're comparing one type of violence with lots of types of violence. The comparison is not only meaningless, but it's utterly immoral to say "well this happens more often than that so let's not bother about the second one".
I'm fairly sure that in practice that violence in general is going to be talked about - it's just that on this one particular day, the Government wanted to talk about VAWG - because that's what the context of this particular campaign is.
The Independent do partially redeem themselves today with their article on feminism, however.
The Times bizarrely start their main article by seemingly implying that only problem teenagers will be targetted:
"A generation of youths who do not know how to treat women are to be targeted in a drive to tackle violence and abuse in teenage relationships, the Government announced today."They're very unclear that this will be taught to all children from the ages from 5 to 15, in an age appropriate way - they only mention 5 year olds for the majority of the article. PSHE is mentioned, which is positive.
The NSPCC are mentioned, but the Parents Outloud group are the only non-governmental organisation directly quoted.
The comments are a disgrace. I give you JL Ronish:
"Young women today do not respect themselves. Until they do they will not get respect from young men. Why they have such low self esteem is a question for professionals but one has to demand respect in order to get it."
Well that's settled then. It's okay to assault women as long as they have no self-respect. Which is the case for all young women.
And Stuart Mackay:
"Ask a female between the age of 16 and 21 what they do - half will say they're a student and the other half will have children."So next time you need statistics to show the 50% pregnancy rate and 50% further education rate amongst young women, you know where to go. Also, pesky students! Grrr!
Image pinched from here.
I have also made an important edit to a blog post from October 4th.