Squeamishness should not stop primary school children receiving sex education

Two reports this week have concluded that the Government should make it compulsory

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The Independent Online

It has been clear for some time that the  provision of sex education in many schools is poor. In 2013, Ofsted reported that the subject was taught inadequately in more than a third of schools.

Separate reports this week by the Commons Education Select Committee and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner have both concluded that the Government should make sex education compulsory at primary level. Now the government must act.

Those who argue that teaching young children about sex and relationships is somehow tantamount to destroying their innocence are not living in the real world – or not, at least, in the modern version of it. For better or worse, our society is saturated with notions of  sexuality. Children, so adept at using the latest technology, are rarely more than a click away from content which, at the very least, might benefit from sensible, adult-led explanation. To shy away from this reality is obtuse to the point of negligence.

Indeed, as the work of the Children’s Commissioner’s team makes clear, far from corrupting youthful virtue, the earlier delivery of improved sex education is needed precisely in order that children are not vulnerable to the kind of exploitation which truly does rob them of their childhood. Parents have a responsibility in this arena too. But the simple truth is that, for some children, support in the home is not forthcoming and schools must fill the gap.

There are other oversights in need of correction in the current system of sexual education. More must be done to inform young people about LGBT issues, both to tackle homophobic bullying and to help stop the rise in the number of young men testing positive for HIV. Labour’s proposal, also backed by the Liberal Democrats, to introduce age-appropriate sex education and anti-homophobia measures in all schools, including the currently exempt academies and free schools, has merit.

Children and young people deserve more credit than they are often given by those who resist sex ed. It should not be forgotten, for instance, that improved knowledge about the risks of tobacco and alcohol has resulted in a decline in teenagers who smoke and rising numbers of young people who are teetotal. Adults may find sex a difficult topic to wrestle with; children, fortunately, are no so immature that they can’t be trusted with the facts.