Parents are to lose the right to withdraw their child from sex education classes when the youngster reaches 15, the Schools Secretary announced today.
The move means all teenagers will receive at least one year's worth of lessons covering sex, contraception and relationships before the age of consent.
Faith schools will not be able to opt out of any part of the new statutory curriculum, Ed Balls also confirmed today, although they will be able to teach topics within the "tenets of their faith".
So-called Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education is to become compulsory in both primary and secondary schools from September 2011, and will be enshrined in new legislation.
Under current rules parents have the right to withdraw their child from sex education classes up until the age of 19.
Mr Balls said that only a "very small minority" of parents choose to exercise this right, and over the past few months issues have been raised about the age at which parents should still be able to exercise it.
"What's happened over the past few decades is that the English courts have been saying it is important to strike a balance of the capacity of the young person to make their own decisions and the rights of the parents," he said.
This has informed the health service's approach to contraception and approaches to education, Mr Balls added.
He said that it "doesn't make sense" in new legislation to retain parents' right to withdraw their child up until the age of 19, given that teenagers can vote at 18, and the age of consent is 16.
A survey commissioned by the Government to gauge the opinion of parents reveals that four in ten agree that children should attend sex education lessons, although almost a third (30%) said parents should always have the option to withdraw their child, no matter how old the youngster is.
Under the new curriculum, pupils as young as seven will learn about puberty and the facts of life and five-year-olds will be taught about parts of the body, relationships and the effects of drugs on the body.
Once they reach secondary school, pupils will learn about contraception, HIV and Aids, pregnancy and different kinds of relationships - including same sex unions and civil partnerships.
But schools will be allowed to teach the subject "in line with the context, values and ethos of the school".
It means that children at some faith schools could be taught that their religion frowns on the use of contraceptives at the same time as learning about condoms.
Giving an example, Mr Balls said: "It is open to faith schools to teach what they believe, according to the tenets of their faith, that pupils should not have sexual relationships outside of marriage."
But faith schools will not be allowed to refuse to teach about contraception on the grounds that they don't believe in sex before marriage, he said.
"You can teach the promotion of marriage, you can teach that you shouldn't have sex outside of marriage, what you can't do is deny young people information about contraception outside of marriage."
Mr Balls said there was no indication that more parents of children at faith schools would choose to withdraw their child once the new curriculum comes into force.
He said that just because parents want children to be taught according to their faith, "it doesn't mean they don't want them to be taught something that's important".Reuse content