Developing Critical Feminist Sex Education in Teacher Training Institutions (Scotland and China)

The Gender and Education Association has kindly funded research visits between Beijing Normal University and Strathclyde University, in order to pump prime the new research project ‘developing critical feminist sex education in teacher training institutions’. In response to divergent and convergent challenges in sex education in our two country contexts of China and Scotland, and our positions at teacher training institutions, we hope to draw on our expertise in critical and feminist sex education pedagogies and methodologies to effect (inter)national change. Using a collaboratively developed Research Apprentice Course (RAC), we will conduct comparative research on feminist sex education inquiry, for educational practitioners, researchers & policy-makers. This cross-institutional initiative will be housed in our respective teacher training and educational leadership degree programmes on which we teach. While sex education may be experienced differently in different country contexts, we aim to create comparative dialogue, practice and publication, engaging with various stakeholders including colleagues, students, and community partners e.g. Equally Safe in Higher Education, Trans-Alliance, and the China Zigen Rural Education and Development Association.


The project is well aligned with the 2016 release of the United Nations Development Programme Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being (sexual and reproductive health care) and Goal 5: Gender Equity (sexual violence and exploitation as a barrier to ending all forms of discrimination against girls and women). Other SDGs that fundamentally intersect with these Goals include:

Goal 1: End to Poverty (a gendered objective given the greater likeliness that women will live in poverty);

Goal 4: Quality Education;

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation;

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth;

Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities (economic inclusion regardless of sex, race, or ethnicity);

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (protection from sexual violence)

(United Nations Development Programme, January 2016).

These SDGs, along with the fact that the UNDP has highlighted the importance of viewing them as interconnected, strengthen the international visibility and legitimacy of the present manifestations of the historical issues that this GEA project foregrounds and the urgent need for work that confronts these issues.

Alongside such development goals, an established body of work now exists about challenges schools face in the organisation and delivery of sex and relationships education (SRE. In the UK, most teachers are expected to deliver some aspect of sex and relationships education: sex and relationships education is not currently rigorous, comprehensive or statutory, nor are the subjects within which it might most frequently be taught, such as Personal, Social and Health Education, Personal Development or Life Education. In 2014 the UK Department for Education agreed to promote supplementary advice to the SRE Guidance of 2000: Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century, stating that schools have a duty to ensure that ‘teaching is accessible to all children and young people, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)’ and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills now provides a Good Practice Resource (Ofsted, 2012). Yet often teacher-training programmes do not systematically include training around sex education with existing research indicating that teachers lack the confidence to teach about these issues. The lack of time given to SRE within school timetables and confusion about what should be taught further compounds this (Sex Education Forum, 2008), together with limited knowledge about teachers’ feelings towards delivering SRE (Harris and Gray, 2014; Henderson, 2015).

In China, which has a ‘large youth population in urgent and diverse needs of sexual and reproductive health knowledge’, there is no national overview of youth perspectives. In both countries, less work has been conducted to explore the perspectives of teachers tasked with delivering SRE and barriers experienced. While the Chinese government has stipulated sex education across all grades, there is no standard national curriculum and professional sex education teachers are nonexistent. Continuity of delivery is an ongoing challenge and in China the Ministry of Education sex education guidelines have ‘embodie[d] conservative conceptions … prohibit[ing] such behaviors rather than provide all-round information and effective guidance’ (Liu & Su, 2014, 66). In the UK, debates continue about the place of sex and relationships education in increasingly multi-cultural and faith-based schools, including the remit of educational staff in relation to child protection and safeguarding. Thus in both countries, there are extensive gaps and questions around teacher training ad sex education, for example in the UK, there is confusion about what should be taught, and the place of this within school timetables (Sex Education Forum, 2008) and in China, the focus on examinations and admission into higher schools has meant that sex education has historically been ignored, and the national curriculum standards have not clearly articulated what and how content should be delivered (Yu, 2010).

The material support of the GEA for this initiative will undoubtedly accelerate our ability to institutionalize interdisciplinary sex education research in teacher training institutions of our respective countries, which we anticipate to have reverberating effects in school, governmental, and non-governmental settings. This has much potential in fulfilling the need for inclusive, critical and feminist comparative collaboration, responsive to the vision of governments, institutions, including public higher education, civil society and citizens working to address the SDPs (United Nations Development Programme, January 2016).

As we begin this project, we believe that the explicit interconnectivity of the SDGs provide a useful framework within which to situate our work and it also enables us to frame it in relationship to the work in our country contexts and the connection of its work to the goals of the national government (eg China UNDP work on Poverty Reduction (United Nations Development Programme, 2016); Scotland’s positioning as one of the first nations on Earth to commit to adapting the SDGs, was praised by the UN as “…showing Scotland’s international leadership on reducing inequality within Scotland as well as beyond [its] borders” (Scottish Government, 2016)).

In the coming months, the rationale that we have outlined in this blog post will serve us well as we focus on gaining institutional and civil society support for the project and as we simultaneously work to establish the first cohort of participants.

Investigators :

Dr. Lauren Ila Misiaszek,

Institute of International and Comparative Education,

Faculty of Education,

Beijing Normal University



Prof. Yvette Taylor

School of Education

University of Strathclyde





Liu, W.-l., & Su, Y.-F. (2014). Sexual and Reproductive Health Education and Service for Young People in China.

Harris, A. and Gray, E. (eds) (2014) Queer Teachers, Identity and Performativity. Basingstoke:


Henderson, E. (2015) Gender Pedagogy. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Scottish Government. (2016). Background to the SDGs. Retrieved from

United Nations Development Programme. (2016). UNDP in China. Retrieved from

United Nations Development Programme. (January 2016). Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from

Yu, J. (2010). A study on the challenges of health education in Primary and Middle schools. Journal of Teaching and Management, 5, 49-50.

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