Schoolchildren are to taught about sex and relationships in lessons beginning from the age of four. In a long anticipated move by the government. sexual education has been made compulsory in Secondary Schools, whilst primary school children will be taught about the importance of healthy adult relationships. However there has been some controversy over the fact that faith schools have been allowed a potential opt-out in that they will still be allowed to teach “in accordance with the tenets of their faith”.
Politicians and charities have welcomed what amounts to the most radical overhaul of sex and relationship education in decades, but some secular campaigners expressed concern about the opt-outs that could be available for faith schools, with accusations that the loop-hole will end up leaving some students vulnerable. The press for the change was spearheaded by MPs from all parties, who derided the previous guidance, put in place in 2000, as hopelessly out of date for the realities and dangers of the modern online world.
Until the new ruling, schools not under the control of the local authority were under no obligation to provide sex education of any sort, beyond a brief focus on the mechanics of conception in Biology. In a statement, education secretary Justine Greening claimed that the previous statutory guides also “fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyberbullying, ‘sexting’ and staying safe online.”
Sex education is compulsory only for secondary school pupils in local authority-run schools. Now all secondary schools, including academies, private schools and religious free schools, must make the age-appropriate sex and relationship education mandatory. The Department for Education will work with teachers, parents and safeguarding experts to develop age-appropriate content for all key stages.
Parents will continue to have a right to withdraw their children from the lessons. Schools will have flexibility in how they deliver the subjects and they can develop an approach that is “sensitive to the needs of the local community” and religious beliefs. The British Humanist Association said the announcement was a step in the right direction, but added that the government should ensure children in faith schools were not deprived of age-appropriate sex and relationships education.
The BHA’s chief executive, Andrew Copson, said: “A child’s access to accurate, evidence-based and relevant information, designed for the simple purpose of keeping them safe, should not be dependent on their religious or non-religious background, nor on the type of school to which they happen to have been sent. It should be clear to everyone that either all children have a right to this education, or no such right exists.”
A YouGov poll from Barnardo’s children’s charity earlier this year found 74 per cent of 11-15 year-olds said they would feel safer if they were taught about sex and relationships in school. Whilst a further 94 per cent said they agreed it was important for them to understand the risks and dangers of being online in order to stay safe.