Broad support for sex education for over-7s

24th October 2008 at 01:00
Improving sex education

Sex and relationship education should be made compulsory in schools, a government-backed review will say today.

A review was launched in February to look at how best to improve sex education in primary and secondary schools.

It also looked at issues such as when to begin teaching sex education, what the main messages and content at each key stage should be, and whether it should be delivered in gender-specific or mixed groups, or both.

The review steering group was co-chaired by Jim Knight, schools minister, Jackie Fisher, principal of Newcastle College, and Joshua McTaggart, the 16-year-old UK Youth Parliament representative.

A TES poll in February found two-thirds of primary teachers believed sex education should be compulsory for pupils in their schools, and many recommend it for children at seven.

At present, primary children are taught about reproduction as part of the human life cycle in science. But personal, social and health education is not statutory in primaries.

There are many grey areas surrounding this new report, which we attempt to clear up in the Qamp;A that follows.

We already teach sex education in our school. Does this mean I can ignore this new report?

Some schools are better at this than others. A survey by the UK Youth Parliament found that four out of 10 young people thought their sex and relationship education was poor or very poor, and 43 per cent were not taught about personal relationships at all. So it will certainly be worth a look.

I thought sex education was already compulsory?

It is, as part of science. But the part that pleasure plays in sex and relationships is not.

So this report is about relationships, when the media seems to suggest it's all about sex?

This new document argues that effective sex and relationship education is not just about sex, but should be taught in the context of relationships. For example, children should learn the skills for coping with relationships, rather than just the mechanics of intercourse.

Does this document mean the government doesn't believe sex education makes teenagers more likely to have sex?

Holland starts sex and relationships education at the age of five and also has the lowest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, a recent UK Youth Parliament investigation concluded. And Jim Knight, schools minister, appeared to go some way towards supporting this view last week when he told the House of Commons that international evidence suggested that teaching aspects of sex education before puberty has a positive effect on teenage pregnancy rates.

But children reach puberty at different ages. Sensitivity is needed when talking to younger children, and parents should be involved, he told the Commons.

The key phrase here is "age appropriate" and the new report expects teachers to use their common sense about this sensitive subject.

A lot of campaigners believe it should all be left to parents? Should it be?

Schools can't do this on their own, and parents need to have a say in how sex and relationship education is delivered. But ministers see sex education as essential in helping to cut teenage pregnancy rates.

This whole topic just makes me blush - or giggle.

There is specialist training for PSHE teachers, and many schools bring in health professionals who can provide valuable expertise.

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