The Commons education select committee comes down firmly on the side of campaigners who have long fought for sex and relationships education (SRE) to be made mandatory in a new report.
The report urges the Department for Education to come up with a strategy to deliver age-appropriate personal, social and health education (PSHE) and SRE as a statutory provision across all schools.
Graham Stuart, the committee chair, said there was “an overwhelming demand for statutory sex and relationship education – from teachers, parents and young people.
“It’s important that school leaders and governors take PSHE seriously and improve their provision by investing in training for teachers and putting PSHE lessons on the school timetable. Statutory status will help ensure all of this happens.
“Young people have a right to information that will keep them healthy and safe,” he said. “SRE forms an important part of any school’s efforts to safeguard young people from abuse, and is particularly needed to protect the most vulnerable children.”
A 2013 Ofsted report found that the PSHE and SRE was inadequate in 40% of schools, and the situation was worsening, the cross-party committee said.
What is right and wrong in relationships
MPs condemned ministers’ attempts to address these shortcomings as weak and insufficient and said there was a mismatch between the priority ministers claim they give PSHE and steps taken to address the problem.
As one of its recommendations, the report calls on the DfE to clarify that children in primary schools should be taught the proper names for genitalia as part of the national curriculum. Ofsted said young children’s inability to name body parts represented a weakness in safeguarding.
Commenting on the reports findings, Lucy Emmerson, Coordinator of the Sex Education Forum said: “This inquiry has very effectively scrutinised the inconsistency of sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools. It is clear that many children and young people go through school without getting vital age-appropriate information about their bodies, what is right and wrong in relationships, consent and sexual health.
“Debate about the pros and cons of statutory Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) has continued for long enough. Support for statutory SRE has never been clearer: nine out of ten students back legislative change, and more than three-quarters of parents want primary schools to teach about the difference between safe and unwanted touch and how to speak up if someone treats them inappropriately.
“The teachers, parents and MPs we speak to are often confused about the current requirements for schools. Although maintained schools are required to teach basic biology the fact remains that SRE is neglected in too many schools and teachers want more training to teach this vital subject properly.
“As part of our ‘SRE – It’s my right’ campaign, we are inviting people to write to their MP to express their support for statutory SRE and we urge all political parties to make a manifesto commitment to change legislation.”