Sex education should start at primary age, the Church of England has said in a new charter that it is calling on its 4,500 primary schools to follow.
The Church's chief education officer, Nigel Genders, told Tes that it had deliberately gone further than the government, which says that compulsory sex education should start at secondary school and places no expectation on primaries to teach the subject.
“Whereas the law says secondary schools have to and primary schools can choose to, we are actually recommending that primary schools do in an age-appropriate way and we hope that this approach will give them the confidence to do that," he said.
"We want that to be age-appropriate. We know there will be people who will always express horror at the idea of really young children in this space but we are talking about age-appropriate sex education, which is really, as people are going to the top end of primary school, this is something that they should have confidence to talk about."
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The Church has said that children need support because they are increasingly at risk of exposure to pornography and “other damaging online and real-world interactions”.
Sex education in primary schools
Mr Genders added: “Fundamentally, this is about giving children the knowledge and the resilience that they need to be able to build healthy relationships in a world that is putting really harmful pressures on them both digitally and in real life.
"This is about making sure we begin to equip children in that space at the point where it is really important to know.”
The recommendation for age-appropriate sex education in primary schools is part of the Church of England's new charter to support schools in delivering relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) ahead of new guidelines becoming law next year.
The Church said that its dioceses will be now be encouraging their schools and academies to sign up, although it will not be compulsory.
From September 2020, all primary schools will be required to teach relationships education and secondary schools will be required to teach relationships and sex education.
Teaching children in primary schools about LGBT relationships has sparked protests this year, resulting in a high-profile court case in Birmingham.
Anti-LGBT equality teaching protests have now been permanently banned outside Anderton Park Primary School in the city.
Stephen Conway, the Bishop of Ely and lead bishop on education, said: “While delivery of these topics has not been without contention in recent months, children are increasingly at risk of exposure to pornography and other damaging online and real-world interactions, and we must commit to teaching this vital part of the curriculum in a way which affords dignity and shows respect to all.
“It is our ambition that these resources will give primary schools, in particular, the confidence to develop an age-appropriate sex education provision in partnership with parents, guardians and carers, while recognising this is a decision for each school to make.”
The charter has a series of key principles, including a commitment to building the resilience of pupils; promoting healthy relationships; using honest and medically accurate information; meeting individual requirements, including special educational needs and disabilities (SEND); and seeking pupils’ views to make teaching relevant to their lives.