The government has asked teachers and pupils to help develop a statutory relationships and sex curriculum that is relevant to the modern world.
Teachers, pupils and parents are also being invited to provide views on what kind of relationship and sex (RSE) lessons are appropriate for different age groups.
The eight-week call for evidence will also ask for opinions on mental health, staying safe online and issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pupils.
The statutory guidance for RSE is being updated following legislation passed by parliament earlier this year, making relationships education compulsory in all primary schools, and RSE compulsory in all secondaries.
The current guidance was last updated in 2000. As a result, it does not address any of the risks to pupils that have grown in prevalence in recent years, such as sexting, online grooming and pornography.
The new consultation is intended to provide insight into what kind of RSE teachers believe their pupils need, in order to be equipped for the modern world.
The consultation will also ask parents for their opinions on how they feel this topic should be taught in a safe and age-appropriate way. Pupils will be asked what online risks they are most concerned with, and what they think they would benefit from being taught.
Education secretary Justine Greening said: “It is unacceptable that relationships and sex education guidance has not been updated for almost 20 years – especially given the online risks, such as sexting and cyberbullying, that our children and young people face.
“Young people must have an education that teaches them the importance of healthy and stable relationships.”
At the moment, only pupils from local-authority-run secondary schools – about a third of all secondaries – are guaranteed to receive the existing version of the sex and relationships curriculum.
'Equip children for modern life'
Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said: “Age-appropriate lessons on relationships and sex education, combined with personal, social and health education in all schools in England, will help keep children safe and healthy.
“It’s important that the government listens to the voices of young people, parents and experts on what they want to see included in these lessons, and who is best-placed to teach them to equip children for modern life and help prevent them being groomed or sexually exploited.”
And Ruth Hunt, chief executive of campaigning charity Stonewall, said: “We’re pleased to see the government taking steps to ensure lesbian, gay, bi and trans people and the issues they face, are included in relationships and sex education.
“We’ve been approached by many teachers who want to deliver inclusive education, but lack the confidence or knowledge to do so. We would encourage all pupils, teachers and parents to have their say to ensure schools offer a curriculum that serves all young people.”
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said that the report into the extent of sexual harassment in schools that the union published last week demonstrated why good RSE was necessary.
But, she added, guidance alone was not sufficient. “The government needs to invest in training for teachers – so that schools are able to provide high-quality RSE,” she said. “It also needs to ensure schools have high-quality resources and enough time in the school curriculum to teach RSE.”
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