Generating more energy than the blazing July sun, over 70 young people (age 13-18) streamed in to the Educating Agenda conference, in Cardiff University last week. They came to participate, share, reflect and build the event into a powerful and inspiring call to arms. Joining them in the building, and in purpose, were some of the teachers and heads of department who continue to give their time and support to young people speaking out in their schools and communities. Representatives from a range of charities and statutory organisations profiled the services they are able to offer young people across an array of colourful and engaging stalls, contributing to the carnival-esque feel of the event. This was not a typical conference, more of a celebration of the many achievements of all involved. It was also about bringing together these young people who are working tirelessly and bravely to show that, far from alone, they are part of a bigger movement with a shared collective aim: improving the provision of sex and relationships education for everyone. And so, it was also a strategic meeting, looking to the future, building onwards, with Agenda.
Professor Emma Renold opened the conference, welcoming back the young people and practitioners who co-produced the Agenda resource and attended its launch in Cardiff bay last year.
Reflecting on this amazing journey so far, which clearly inspired many of the performances we were to enjoy that day, Emma highlighted the many directions Agenda has moved in. Taking the resource across Wales, physically, digitally and emotionally. From the Welsh Assembly, to police and teacher training, and the Welsh Baccalaureate conference, across schools town and cities, it was clear much has been achieved. We saw how Agenda has become a living archive in motion, amplifying the creations and messages of all the young people involved in its creation, many of whom were gathered in the room. We saw Agenda gaining momentum through its appropriation and adaptation in each new encounter and forging onwards as a powerful vehicle for change, as we were about to see.
‘Children’s champion for Wales’, Commissioner Sally Holland drew our attention to Agenda’s value as a human rights based approach, commending the work of everyone involved. The children’s commissioner applauded Wales’ brilliant young people who, using Agenda as a launch pad, are demanding, better sex and relationships education in powerful and creative ways. Cabinet secretary for Education Kirsty Williams echoed these sentiments describing Agenda as a platform for discussing complex issues, helping teachers to provide the sex and relationships education young people deserve.
Classrooms, the cabinet minister said, have to be free of intolerance and, she added, sex and relationships education must be inclusive, comprehensive and delivered by trained experts. The talk concluded with messages from primary school pupils, sent to Kirsty Williams via a fantastic Pride-inspired, rainbow piñata, calling for gender neutral toilets in schools, more teacher training, awareness raising and protests.
Two outstanding performances followed featuring pupils from Ysgol Gyfun Plasmawr and Mountain Ash comprehensive schools. Siriol Burford introduced these Agenda ambassadors, firstly Plasmawr performing a new drama production ‘Hidden’ that highlights the potentially unseen harm of homophobic bullying. A powerful representation of the insidious effects of ‘harmless banter’, exploring the impact of phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ from the perspective of a non-heterosexual pupil, overhearing them. #WAM (We Are More) maintained the high standard delivering their own dramatization of the kinds of everyday sexism they experience. Their rallying call ‘WAM: We Are More’ was the response to derogatory marks about skirt length, make up and body shaming. Mountain Ash students also shared a video of their activism and its path through their school and beyond, out in to communities in Cardiff, at the International Women’s day event and onwards to Paris for the European Children’s Rights summit!