New sex education curriculum will address 21st-century risks, government says

The existing curriculum is 'outdated', education secretary Justine Greening has said

Adi Bloom

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Education secretary Justine Greening today confirmed that sex and relationships education is to be revised and made statutory in all state schools. She said that the current curriculum was “outdated” and failed to address new risks to children.

As TES reported yesterday, the government’s decision follows a widespread campaign by charities, MPs and local authorities, calling for sex and relationships education (SRE) to be made a statutory part of the curriculum.

In a written statement to Parliament issued today, Ms Greening said: “The statutory guidance for sex and relationships education was introduced in 2000, and is becoming increasingly outdated. It fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyber-bullying, sexting and staying safe online.”

All primary schools will now be required to teach age-appropriate relationships education. This will be expanded to relationships and sex education at secondary school.

The government will require personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) to be taught in academies, as well as in maintained and independent schools.

The rule will apply to faith schools. However, Ms Greening said there would be flexibilities over delivering the subjects, and schools could "develop an integrated approach that is sensitive to the needs of the local community". She added: "As now, faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith." 

'This is only the start'

The announcement has been welcomed by campaigners. Helen Marshall, chief executive officer of sexual-health charity Brook, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to witness this change in policy today. Time and time again, young people tell us that the SRE they receive in school (if any) does not prepare them to navigate the challenges of the world around them.”

In particular, Ms Marshall said, she welcomed the decision to educate pupils about the dangers of sexual harassment, online bullying and pornography.

“SRE is essential to help drive positive sexual-health messages, and to provide young people with the skills and confidence to explore healthy relationships and sexuality,” she said. “SRE should be age-appropriate and relevant to young people’s complex and fast-changing environment.”

But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said: “Making these lessons mandatory is only the start. It needs to fit with a complete, whole-school approach, where life skills are embedded across a broad and rich curriculum, supported by professionals who have the training and skills to deliver excellent lessons on the often complex issues involved.”

The new statutory guidance will go to public consultation. It is expected to be introduced to schools from September 2019.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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