What Byrne has in the works for students at Murray Edwards isn't quite as archaic or repressive as the lessons that took place in Moordale, but there's no denying that they're eerily similarwikimedia commons

While lacking in pantsuits and Veja trainers, the new President of Murray Edwards College, Dorothy Byrne, appears to have a lot in common with Hope Haddon – the former headmistress of Moordale Secondary School in Sex Education.

“To suggest that women will simply “forget to have children” is not only infantilising, but wrong”

They’re both powerful women, keen to impart their received wisdom onto the minds of the young. Hope plays it cool with an ‘I’m on your level’ approach in order to ally herself with students before subjecting them to lessons on sex and fertility, meanwhile Byrne announces she wants to revive the conversation around childbearing via a Sunday Times news piece. So while they're different in their means, they're united in their ends: to communicate their vision for the future onto the impressionable youth – especially girls.

However noble their goals may be, Byrne and Hadden are flawed in how they try to score them. Hadden alienates her students. While she only has seconds for gender non-conformity, she has hours for investors – constantly cited as the reason for why the ‘sex-school’ needs to ‘clean up its act’. Byrne similarly brushes aside the fact that a message around heterosexual, female reproduction will simply fall deaf on the ears of many who aren’t.


Hope’s consistent ignorance of the needs of Cal Bowman, one of the few non-binary students at Moordale, seems to be somewhat reflected in these seminars. If you’ve come here from Varsity’s news coverage of the announcement, you’ll know that some students feel like these classes “alienate many of Medwards’ male, non-binary, and gender minority students.” And yet they both press on, safe in the knowledge that their experiences entitle them to lecture others about how to go about their life choices.

Unlike Hadden, Byrne’s agenda does not come from financial pressure above, but her child below. Since she put her “career first”, she only thought about children when it was “too late”. Thankfully, not late enough, as due to IVF she was able to have a child at 45. Alongside this experience, Byrne justifies her proposal by pointing to the supposedly alarming decline in the national birth rate, which fell from 1.92 in 2011 to 1.53 in 2021. To Byrne, this news requires a conversation - fertility can’t be a “forbidden subject”.


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Except it isn’t. Women are well aware of their status as a ‘ticking time bomb’. Lessons on sex education commence in primary school, follow through into secondary school, and form the basis of many – if anything, too many – discussions after the completion of formal education. To suggest that women will simply “forget to have children” is not only infantilising, but wrong.

Though Moordale is an Edwardian red-brick school in what looks like America, but is probably somewhere near Staines, and Medwards is a post-war concrete mass that resembles R2-D2, their leaders are united in the inefficacy of their endeavours. While Hope aggravates her students to the extent where they retaliate and get her fired, Byrne is striking at the wrong target in the wrong way. We’re happy to talk about fertility, but perhaps don’t pretend we’re children when doing it – and please, for the love of God, talk to the boys as well?