Compulsory sex lessons a priority

Tes Editorial

According to the Family Planning Association, the plan to make sex and relationships education (SRE) compulsory "will dramatically improve the long-term health and wellbeing of our children and young people". In contrast, The Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens believes that education ministers, by supporting the recommendation from their review group, "wish to spread the idea that underage sex, sex outside marriage and many other things are 'natural' and 'normal' and 'inevitable'".

Who is right? The simple answer is that Mr Hitchens' opinion is based on an idealised view of how he would like the world to be, while the association's is based on experience of dealing with the world as it is.

Take teenage pregnancies. In England in 2006, more than 40 in every 1,000 girls aged under 18 got pregnant - including more than seven in every 1,000 girls aged between 13 and 15.

If you also take into account the growing problem of sexual diseases, the picture of the country's sexual health, especially for teenagers, is somewhat alarming. The number of new episodes of sexually transmitted infections reported to clinics doubled to 1.3 million between 1991 and 2001. Young people, in particular females under 20, bore the brunt of the infection.

Today's young people, whether we like it or not, frequently encounter sexual experiences from their early teens (page 16). The plan to introduce sex education lessons in England from the age of five is therefore welcome. And the decision to emphasise relationships, especially in primary schools, is particularly welcome.

Evidence from other countries shows that children who learn early about sex and the value of loving relationships are more likely to delay having sex for the first time.

In Wales, where sex education is compulsory for secondary pupils, some schools are reported to be struggling to cover it fully because school nurses, who help teach the subject, are busy immunising girls against cervical cancer. This demonstrates the urgency to provide sufficient staff who are adequately trained to teach the subject. The decision, in principle, to tackle inadequacies in training for teachers and to increase the number of specialist SRE teachers is welcome, and should be an urgent priority.

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