Compulsory FGM education to be introduced

Gabriella Jozwiak
Monday, February 25, 2019

The dangers of female genital mutilation (FGM) will be taught to all secondary school pupils, the Department for Education has announced.

The subject is included in draft regulations to be presented in parliament today for compulsory relationships and sex education (RSE), due to come into force from September 2020.

The practice, which involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia usually for cultural or spiritual reasons, was a feature in 1,960 social work assessments by councils in 2017/18, according to government figures.

This number of cases was more than double those recorded in 2016/17 (970).

The new curriculum stipulates that secondary schools should address the physical and emotional damage caused by FGM, raise awareness of the support that is available, and ensure pupils know that FGM is illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds, said that while legislation was already in place to protect girls, awareness and challenging assumptions was "just as important".

"Our reforms to relationships and sex education will ensure young people are taught in an age-appropriate way about different forms of abuse and their rights under the law, to equip them with the knowledge they need to keep themselves and others safe," said Hinds.

FGM campaigner Nimco Ali, who is director of charity Daughters of Eve, said education was "key to ending FGM".

"As a child I had no idea FGM was illegal, I just knew it was painful," she said.

"It took me years to piece together what happened to me and why I felt the way I did about it.

"Had I been given the education now being introduced, I would have been able to support those in my family to understand, and prevent other girls from being cut."

However, the National FGM Centre head Leethen Bartholomew, called for earlier intervention, because most girls who become victims of FGM do so at primary school age.

"Conversations about FGM should take place at a younger age," said Bartholomew, adding: "Whilst some may have reservations about this, the work of the FGM Centre has shown this can be done in a child-centred way that can achieve the intended outcome of safeguarding children."

The DfE announced a £6m package of training, resources and support for schools to prepare for teaching the new content, with some pilot schools set to start teaching the lessons from September 2019.

Schools have been free to choose whether to teach FGM issues within the PSHE curriculum since 2014, and in February 2016 the government rejected calls for mandatory teaching of FGM in schools, before changing direction more recently.

However, more than 106,000 people have signed a petition urging the government to allow parents to opt their children out of mandatory RSE lessons.

MPs will debate the issue today in response to petitioners' belief that it is a parent's right to teach their child RSE topics, "or to at least decide who teaches them and when and how they are taught".

In 2020, the department also plans for pupils of all ages to learn about how to look after their own and their peers' mental wellbeing at school.

Compulsory health education for children in all state-funded schools will cover mental and physical health, including nutrition and online safety.

Health education is already compulsory in independent schools through the PSHE curriculum.

Primary school children will also study mandatory relationships education from 2020.

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