GOVERNMENT guidance on relationship and sex education (RSE) is to be updated, and the subject made mandatory in all schools in England, by September 2019, the Government has announced. The legislation that ministers expect to be achieved through an amendment to the current Children and Social Work Bill would require “age-appropriate” RSE in all schools in England.
Although sex education is compulsory only in local-authority secondary schools, in practice it is common throughout the schools system, although the emphasis varies. The biggest change is likely to be in the subject guidance drawn up by the Department for Education (DfE).
Citing the growing prevalence of internet porn, “sexting”, and cyber-bullying, the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, said current subject guidance, drafted 17 years ago, was outdated. “At the moment, many young people don’t feel they have the RSE they need to stay safe and navigate becoming an adult,” she said.
Her concerns were echoed in a blog by the Church of England’s lead bishop for education, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway. “It is only natural, given much that we see in the world around us, to want to shield children as long as we possibly can. . . But it is becoming increasingly clear that what might have held in previous eras is no longer the most effective way of keeping our children safe and preparing them for life in the world in which they live,” he wrote.
“In an age when even primary-school children are becoming exposed to online pornography — often by accident — and when practices such as ‘sexting’ are becoming commonplace at a younger and younger age, we cannot simply advocate an approach like the three monkeys, covering their eyes, ears, and mouth, vowing to see, hear, or speak no evil.”
The Government is proposing the introduction of a new subject, Relationships Education, in primary schools, and renaming the secondary-school subject Relationships and Sex Education, to emphasise the central importance of healthy relationships.
It has promised to retain parents’ right to withdraw their children from sex education, and to involve the Churches, other stakeholders, and faith leaders in drawing up the content of what should be taught and at which stage. It says that the curriculum will be flexible, to take into account the faith background of pupils.
The chairman of the Catholic Education Service, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, said: “We want to help shape the Guidance so Catholic schools can continue to deliver outstanding RSE in accordance with parents’ wishes and Catholic teaching.”