Schools may be forced to teach children about porn and sexting, reports suggests

Department for Education said to be ready to force schools to provide sex and relationships education

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The Independent Online

All schools in England could be forced to provide sex and relationships education for pupils under new Government plans. 

Ministers are reportedly planning to make schools teach children about pornography, domestic violence, sexting and the nature of consent after witnessing a worrying rise in reports of sexual bullying in classrooms and playgrounds. 

According to the Sunday Times, the changes would be introduced as amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill, which is currently before Parliament. 

A government source told the paper: “Justine [Greening, the Education Secretary] is clear that this is something that has to be looked at. It is not just a question of making it mandatory but also of what we should be teaching, including issues such as sexting and domestic violence.”

Under the current regulations, free schools and academies – which now make up more than half of all secondary schools – can choose not to teach pupils about sex and relationships.

A number of charities and children’s groups have lobbied consistently for this to be changed, saying teaching children about the nature of sex and relationships would help tackle sexual abuse. MPs from all parties have also backed making the lessons compulsory.

A spokesperson for the NSPCC told The Independent: “The NSPCC has long campaigned for the introduction of compulsory, high quality sex and relationships education in schools. We are pleased to hear the Government is considering introducing this long overdue requirement and look forward to working with the Government on this important issue.

“Age-appropriate sex education helps children learn about healthy relationships, develop a respect for themselves and others, and can prevent sexual harassment and abuse. If we support and educate our children now, we help lay foundations for healthy relationships in the future."

Last month, the chairs of five parliamentary select committees wrote to Ms Greening urging her to make sex and relationships education compulsory. Ms Greening had expressed support for the idea before she took her current job, and Prime Minister Theresa May is also reported to be in favour.

However, opponents say schools should be able to choose what they teach their pupils about the issue. A number of religious schools have also objected to suggestions they should be forced to teach children about issues relating to sex.

Reports earlier this year suggested plans to make sex and relationships education compulsory had been personally vetoed by then Prime Minister David Cameron, despite having the support of other senior Cabinet ministers. 

Ministers reportedly believe the move could help address soaring levels of sexual bullying and sexual abuse in schools.

A report published earlier this year by Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee found almost one in three 16- to 18-year-old girls had experienced “unwanted sexual touching” at school while 59 per cent of girls had been the victim of some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year.

The NSPCC, meanwhile, found children as young as 11 are accessing pornography online and 40 per cent of teenagers have engaged in sexting.

Reports of sexual crimes committed against children increased by 23 per cent last year and have now risen by 138 per cent in the last decade.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “High-quality education on sex and relationships is a vital part of preparing young people for success in adult life - helping them make informed choices, stay safe and learn to respect themselves and others. 

“Education on sex and relationships is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools, and many academies and free schools teach it as part of the curriculum. However, we are actively looking at options to ensure that all children have access to high-quality teaching of these subjects.”

The Independent understands a final decision on compulsory sex and relationships education has not yet been made.

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