The legal position: a mandate for delivery

Sex education campaigners are hoping that the new mood of the inclusive 90s will aid their efforts to put personal and social education at the heart of the curriculum - but they may face fierce opposition.Wendy Wallace reports

Despite confusing legislation, there is a clear mandate for the delivery of sex education in schools. The Education Reform Act of 1988 (incorporated into Section 351-(1) of the Education Act 1996) requires all maintained schools to offer a curriculum that prepares pupils for the "opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".

The Education Act 1993 requires all maintained primary and secondary schools to have a written statement of whatever policy they adopt on sex education, and to make it available to parents on request. This is the responsibility of school governors.

Guidance produced by the Department for Education and Employment in 1994 (594) sets out a moral framework for sex education. Pupils should be "encouraged to appreciate the value of stable family life, marriage and the responsibilities of parenthood".

In primary schools, the advice is that sex education should "prepare pupils to cope with the physical and emotional challenges of growing up, and to give them an elementary understanding of human reproduction". Due consideration should be given to parents' wishes and religious or cultural factors.

In secondary school, sex education should "encompass, in addition to facts about human reproductive processes and behaviour, consideration of the broader emotional and ethical dimensions of sexual attitudes". Secondary schools must provide sex education and cover HIV and Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The Education Act of 1993 granted children with disabilities an equal right to school sex education.

Primary school governing bodies have the right to decide not to offer sex education outside the national curriculum.

Parents have the right to withdraw children from all or any aspect of sex education, apart from aspects contained in the national curriculum, in both primary and secondary schools.

If a pupil discloses to a teacher that he or she is having sex under the age of consent, current guidance suggests that the teacher must inform the head, who in turn "should arrange for the parents to be made aware". A teacher can provide information to pupils on sources of confidential advice.

The guidance in 594 clarifies that the notorious Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (which prohibits local authorities from "promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship") does not apply to the activities of the governing bodies and staffof schools.

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