Teaching about contraception will become part of new compulsory sex education lessons, it emerged yesterday. A Government review of personal, health, social and economic education, which covers lessons about sex and relationships, ruled that sex education should be a compulsory subject in both primary and secondary schools.
However, faith schools are being told they can include in the lessons a rejoinder making it clear in the case of Roman Catholics, for example, that their religion is against the use of contraception.
In addition, ministers have agreed that parents' right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons will remain.
Figures produced by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, show that only four in every 10,000 have exercised that right although some observers believe this will grow when sex education becomes statutory.
As a result of yesterday's decision by a review group headed by headteacher Sir Alasdair Macdonald, children as young as seven will start to learn about puberty and reproduction. Five-year-olds will also be taught how to manage strong feelings and emotions.
By the time they reach secondary school, they will be taught about contraception, HIV and Aids and pregnancy. In Key Stage Four, which is for 14 to 16-year-olds, teenagers will taught how to make assessments of different "lifestyle activities" - which could mean learning about gay relationships.
Sir Alasdair was at pains yesterday to stress that making PHSE compulsory was not only about introducing compulsory sex lessons. His report concluded: "Comments made in some parts of the media and elsewhere that statutory SRE (sex and relationships education) would mean 'sex education for five-year-olds' are inaccurate and miss the point of SRE."
In fact, there will be eight new statutory areas of the curriculum as a result of yesterday's decision.
The others are: drugs and alcohol education; teaching about emotional health and well-being; diet and healthy lifestyle, including the need to adopt a healthy eating lifestyle; safety education (teaching about the risks of getting involved in gangs rather than pure health and safety); careers education; teaching pupils financial capability, such as how to manage their finances and take out a mortgage; and work-related learning.
Sir Alasdair said that at present, while PSHE was delivered well in some schools, overall the situation was "patchy". "We want the rest to be benefiting from the kind of education that is being given to the best," he said.
Children's Secretary Ed Balls said he had accepted all of Sir Alasdair's recommendations.
"It is clear that if children are going to get a well rounded education which prepares them for life in the 21st century, PSHE has a key role to play," he said. "Most schools already follow the non-statutory curriculum but current provision can be patchy.
However, he stressed: "Parents bring up children, not government. Schools, however, can play a vital role in teaching essential skills for learning and life."
Leaders of the Catholic education service said they supported the principle of making lessons compulsory but said what was taught "ought to be in line with the wishes of parents and should uphold the ethos of the particular school".
Oona Stannard, director of the service, added: "Within the parameters of Catholic schools being able to continue with this approach, we support the principle of PSHE being a requirement for every pupil."
She said the service was also committed to ensuring that parents' rights to withdraw their children from classes was maintained. "This is a crucial right in a community where parents are the first educators of their children and because parents are responsible for bringing up their children and not the State."
The plan was opposed by secondary school headteachers, who said there was "nothing to be gained" from making the subject compulsory in schools.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added that he was "concerned at the notion that new ways have to be found to assess PSHE". "Surely this is one area of the curriculum that does not have to be assessed, where young people should be able to learn without having examinations hanging over them," he said.
Simon Blake, director of Brook, the sex and contraception advisory service, welcomed the decision. However, he warned against faith schools' use of a "caveat" in sex education classes.
"All young people need to know about their legal rights – you can be gay, you can use contraception and you can have access to abortion services," he said.
He was also worried about parents retaining the right to withdraw their children from lessons – claiming it would "undermine all young people's rights to a good quality sex and relationships education".
The plan will be put out to consultation between now and the end of the summer term with a view to being introduce in all schools in September 2011.
What children should learn about sex. And when
By the age of five: How to recognise, manage and control strong feelings and emotions.
By seven: How to form and maintain relationships with a range of different people. They should also be able to name the main parts of the body.
By 11: How to manage changing emotions and relationships and how new relationships may develop. They should also – through scientific and technical understanding lessons – be able to describe and explain the structure and function of key human body systems, including reproduction. In class, they should be able to discuss some bodily and emotional changes at puberty and demonstrate some ways of dealing with these in a positive way.
By 14: Recognise and discuss the importance of relationships to sexual activity (in terms of human reproduction, using contraception and sexually transmitted diseases) and to marriage, parenthood and family life. They should also be able to discuss in class how they can recognise strong emotions and identify ways of managing these emotions positively (for example talking to a friend or teacher about feelings on divorce and falling in love).
By 16: Assess the risks and benefits associated with lifestyle activities such as sex and be able to make safer choices based on this assessment of risk. They should also state they know where they can find professional health advice (about issues like sexual diseases) and be taught how to be confident in seeking it (for example from their GP or other services).
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