The Government is poised to rule out the compulsory teaching of sex and relationship education to children as young as five in the New Year.
The news will dash the hopes of many experts and the Commons Education Committee, who want compulsory sex education and broader personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) for primary and secondary schools. They believe this will help to prevent young people from carrying out abusive sexual behaviour – a rape occurs on UK school premises more than once every academic day. At least a fifth of sexual offences at schools are committed by children.
Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, vowed to improve sex education and PSHE after the select committee recommended, earlier this year, introducing them as statutory subjects in primary and secondary schools. Sex education is already compulsory at most secondary schools, though not at academies.
It is understood that the Government does not want to impose more curriculum demands on schools, but will look at options such as giving the evaluation of sex education and PSHE more emphasis in Ofsted inspection scoring. Officials are consulting head teachers to develop plans, which will be outlined by the end of January.
A government source said: “Making this statutory seems unlikely. The school of thought is that the worst thing that government could do is come in with prescriptive [plans] – the needs on sex education are very different in, for example, Tower Hamlets than they are in Lincolnshire.”
But strengthening guidelines will not satisfy campaigners. Sarah Green, acting director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “Every expert who is familiar with the risk of abuse faced by young people, from their peers and from adults, as well as the pressures created by new technology, agrees that we must intervene very directly and make sex and relationships education compulsory in all schools.
“Girls and boys have a right to classes that talk about equality, consent and how people who respect each other treat each other, in order that ideas about ‘blurred lines’ can be countered. Introducing any half-hearted measures … will not cut it.”
Joe Hayman, PSHE Association head, added: “If this is true, then it would be a terrible decision …. Every expert says this is needed to keep young people safe. It’s also popular – 90 per cent of parents support it.”
The news emerges at an awkward time for the Government because Wednesday is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (see box) and improved sex education is considered vital to this cause. Labour peers are preparing to ask a series of questions to highlight the issue. Baroness Gale will call for the Government to appoint a national adviser for violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence in England, which would be similar to a post established in Wales this year.
Labour had wanted a commission to tackle gender violence, but it is believed that civil servants concluded this plan was too costly.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “High-quality PSHE and relationship education has an important role to play in helping young people make informed decisions and ensuring they know what support is available. [It] is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and many primary schools also teach it in an age-appropriate manner.”
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