An influential panel of MPs has urged Nicky Morgan to make the teaching of sex and relationship education statutory in all schools.
The chair of the Commons Education Select Committee has written to the education secretary calling on her to “carefully consider” the merits of introducing statutory status for personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.
In his letter, Neil Carmichael states that the government’s response to a previous report into PSHE published by the committee has been “feeble”.
The correspondence comes after the Independent on Sunday reported that the government was poised to rule out making PSHE statutory.
Mr Carmichael said: “The previous education committee, of which I was a member, found the government's strategy for improving PSHE in schools is weak and highlighted that PSHE requires improvement in 40 per cent of schools.
“The committee recommended introducing statutory status for PSHE, a move which could have a significant impact in helping to keep our children healthy and safe. I urge the secretary of state to report back to my committee and respond to the call for statutory PSHE and outline her strategy for improving the quality of teaching in these areas.”
His comments come in light of a report published by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner this week, which reveals that 66 per cent of sexual abuse occurs “within the family or the wider trusted circle”.
Children are too often unable to recognise they have been abused and report it to a responsible adult, it adds.
The study, Mr Carmichael says, revealed the growing need for “proper, age appropriate” sex and relationships education.
“The commissioner recommends that schools ‘equip all children, through compulsory lessons for life, to understand healthy and safe relationships and to talk to an appropriate adult if they are worried about abuse’, and I agree with her,” he adds.
The Department for Education said it wanted young people to leave school "equipped with a curriculum for life that prepares them to succeed in modern Britain, and the teaching of PSHE is central to that plan".
A spokesperson added: “We are working with headteachers and other experts to understand how best to achieve high-quality PSHE for every pupil. We will say more about our plans in due course.”
Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES on Facebook