Sex and Relationship Classes Set to Be Taught in Secondary Schools
Compulsory sex and relationship education looks set to be taught in all secondary schools after Tory MPs - including five former ministers - backed a change to the law, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
The ministers are among a group of 23 Conservative MPs who are backing a law change to force secondary schools to make Relationship Education compulsory in the National Curriculum.
The change would see teenagers being what consent means in sexual relationships and how to protect themselves from sexting and online exploitation in compulsory classes.
Currently only council-controlled secondary schools are required to teach children about sex in biology classes. There is no such requirement on academies or free schools which make up the majority of secondary schools in England.
Justine Greening, the Education secretary, has already hinted that the Government wants to take action, but has yet to publish further information.
The changes - the biggest overhaul of sex education for 17 years - are proposed in an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill which was published in the House of Commons yesterday. [thurs]
Pupils will be taught “how to recognise and handle bullying and peer pressure, such as sexting, the meaning of consent, signs of an exploitative relationship, including physical, mental and sexual harassment, conflict management and safety online, such as exposure to pornography”.
New Government guidance to local authority and academies will also ensure pupils “learn the importance of respect, tolerance and commitment in all types of healthy relationships”.
Schools will also have to protect children “from teaching and materials which are inappropriate having regard to the age and religious background of the pupils concerned”, under the proposals.
MPs are likely to vote on the amendment by the end of this month, and the changes could be law in time for the next academic year in September.
The amendment is likely to succeed as long as the Opposition parties support it because of the Government's thin majority in the House of Commons.
The amendment is backed by a cross party group of MPs including the chairmen of the education, justice and health select committees.
Former Cabinet ministers Dominic Grieve, Nicky Morgan, Maria Miller, Dame Caroline Spelman and former Children’s minister Tim Loughton are backing the change.
At least seven Labour MPs - Sarah Champion, Graham Allen and Jon Cruddas - are also backing the change and a DUP MP Jim Shannon as backing the reforms.
The changes come after The Telegraph led a Better Sex Education campaign which called for teaching – which has not been changed since 2000 - to be modernised to reflect the risks facing children online.
David Burrowes, the Tory MP leading the reforms, told The Daily Telegraph the changes would recognise in law “compulsory relationship education”.
He said: “We are looking forward to the Government positively responding to this. It ensures that sex education when it comes in a child’s life has a relationship basis.
“This would mean that it deals with what is at the heart of people’s concerns which is people’s resilience, strong relationships and how to handle issues around pornography and sexual harassment.”
Bob Neill, a former Local Government minister backing the changes, said the reforms were “sensible proposal” because schools talked about sex education in classes “in mechanical terms”.
A source close to Ms Greening said that modernising sex education “was something she wants to move on, it is just a question of doing it properly”.
The adviser said Ms Greening wanted to ensure that any changes to sex education lasted the test of time and did not need to be repeatedly updated.
Jonathan Baggaley, chief executive of the PSHE Association, said that sex education...
“...should be at the heart of the curriculum and provides the structure to address other vital areas such as mental health, healthy lifestyles, skills for work and career success and alcohol and substance misuse."
“This is why we are calling on the Government to take its own steps to improve the status of the whole subject in all schools.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “High-quality education on sex and relationships is a vital part of preparing young people for success in adult life."
“It is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and, as the Education Secretary said last week, we are looking at options to ensure all children have access to high-quality teaching in these subjects.
“We are working closely with select committee chairs and others and will update the House in the passage of the Children and Social Work Bill.”
A source added that ministers will update Parliament on the Government's plans during the passage of the Children and Social Work Bill.
She said: "We are clear that this must be done in the right way, with active consideration of all the issues, to ensure that any actions taken support effective delivery of the outcomes we seek such as keeping young people safe, and supporting them to gain the skills to develop healthy, positive relationships."
Mrs Miller, who with Mr Burrowes organised the amendment, said: "Children are having to deal with a highly sexualised online world without the support they need to tackle the problems it creates."
"Most children will receive their first mobile phone aged nine years, will have seen online pornography before they leave primary school and two thirds will have been asked for a digital sexual image of themselves before they leave secondary school. Schools and parents need to work together to give children the support they need - this change in the law will make it compulsory for schools to play their part."
Written by Christopher Hope for The Telegraph