Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Children over 14 will be able to defy parents and opt in for sex education classes, government confirms

It comes amid a row over whether primary school pupils should learn about LGBT+ relationships

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Monday 25 February 2019 15:00 GMT
Primary school pupils 'will not be taught about adult relationships at age five', says education secretary Damian Hinds

Children from the age of 15 will be able to opt into sex education classes against the wishes of their parents, the education secretary has confirmed.

Damian Hinds has said pupils will be allowed to request sex education lessons three terms before their 16th birthday. Until then, parents will retain the right to withdraw children from sex education.

The minister’s comments on Monday came following a backlash to the government’s compulsory relationships education in primary schools and sex education in secondary schools from 2020.

A petition, which has attracted more than 107,000 signatures, calls for parents to retain the right to opt their children out of statutory sex education lessons in secondary schools in England.

Announcing the final guidelines on what will be taught in statutory relationships, sex and health lessons, Mr Hinds acknowledged there were “understandable and legitimate” areas of contention.

But he told MPs: “We have retained the longstanding ability for parents to request their child be withdrawn from the sex education element of RSE [relationships and sex education].

“The schools should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child – except in exceptional circumstances – up to and until three terms before the child reaches age 16.

“At that point if the child wishes to take part in sex education lessons, the headteacher should ensure they receive it in one of those terms.”

Mr Hinds was forced to defend the changes after MPs accused him of “a fundamental shift of power to the state”.

Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, said: “All previous Conservative governments have given an untrammelled right to parents to remove their children from sex education.

“But here in certain circumstances that right has been transferred to the headteacher. A fundamental shift of power to the state.”

Matthew Offord, the Conservative MP for Hendon, said there were “huge amounts of concern in his constituency”.

He said some in the chamber “feel that the state knows better than parents”, but added: “The last time I looked, the Conservative Party believed in freedom of choice to decide your own future.”

Classes on LGBT+ relationships have also been a bone of contention among some parents and faith groups.

Speaking on Monday, the education secretary insisted that children as young as four would not learn about same-sex couples – but he added that primary school pupils will be taught about having respect for all kinds of people.

Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman said last week that all schools should teach pupils about same-sex relationships following a row over whether LGBT+ issues should be covered in primary schools.

It comes after Andrew Moffat, a teacher at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, faced protests from primary school parents over his teachings about same-sex couples through books.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Three new subjects – relationships education from primary school, relationships and sex education at secondary school, and health education for all ages – will be compulsory in schools in England from September 2020.

Under the plans, secondary school pupils in England will be taught about the physical and emotional harm caused by female genital mutilation (FGM) and other forms of honour-based abuse.

Pupils will also be taught about the excessive use of electronic devices and rationing time spent online to protect pupils’ physical and mental health.

Menstruation and menstrual wellbeing will be taught in all primary schools as part of the plans.

The government is updating the curriculum guidelines for RSE for the first time in nearly 20 years following calls from campaigners.

The petition, which was debated by MPs at the same time that Mr Hinds made his statement to the Commons, calls for parents to be given a greater say on what children are taught in sex education.

It says: “We have grave concerns about the physical, psychological and spiritual implications of teaching children about certain sexual and relational concepts proposed in RSE and believe that they have no place within a mandatory school curriculum.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in