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Primary pupils need sex-and-relationships education, say MPs

By BBC
17 February 2015   |   2:28 am
ALL state primary and secondary schools in England should have to teach sex-and-relationships education (SRE), MPs have said in a report. The Commons Education Committee said the subject should be given statutory status. "Young people have a right to information that will keep them healthy and safe," said committee chairman Graham Stuart MP. The government…

ALL state primary and secondary schools in England should have to teach sex-and-relationships education (SRE), MPs have said in a report.

The Commons Education Committee said the subject should be given statutory status.

“Young people have a right to information that will keep them healthy and safe,” said committee chairman Graham Stuart MP.

The government said it would consider the findings carefully.

The MPs’ inquiry was launched last year after Ofsted reported more than a third of schools in England were failing to provide pupils with age-appropriate SRE.

Ofsted said personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), of which SRE is a part, required improvement in 40% of schools.

“This situation would not be tolerated in other subjects, and yet the government’s strategy for improving PSHE is weak,” the MPs said.

“There is mismatch between the priority that ministers claim they give to PSHE and the steps taken to improve its delivery in schools,” they added.

In particular, they said, there was a lack of clarity on the status of the subject.

The report noted primary schools were not required to provide sex-and-relationships education beyond the basic biology dictated by the national curriculum, while at secondary level the national curriculum required schools to cover sexually transmitted diseases with 14- to 16-year-olds.

It noted academies and free schools (about half of schools) were not bound by the national curriculum, though all schools must have regard to government guidance from 2000 if they teach the subject.

The current position meant the relationships aspect of the subject may be particularly squeezed, the report said.

The committee said the subject’s lack of statutory status meant it was too often sidelined, with teachers denied continuous professional training.

It recommended:

the Department for Education develops a “work plan” for introducing age-appropriate PSHE and SRE as statutory subjects in primary and secondary schools

the government endorses and publishes updated guidance on SRE from subject specialists

Ofsted resumes regular surveys of PSHE provision

schools consult regularly with parents on SRE provision, with parents retaining the right to withdraw their child

SRE be renamed Relationships and Sex EducationMr Stuart said there was overwhelming demand from teachers, parents and young people for SRE to become compulsory.

“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,” he said.

“PSHE builds character and resilience and will help young people to live happy and healthy lives.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said high quality PSHE teaching played a vital role in developing young people’s personal and emotional wellbeing, “supporting them to make informed choices and stay safe”.

“That’s why we are working with schools and experts to ensure the PSHE and relationships education that young people receive is appropriate and of a high standard,” she said.

“We have already set up a new expert subject group on PSHE to identify key areas where teachers need further support.

“However, we are aware more needs to be done to raise the quality of teaching in this area, and we will consider the findings of this report carefully.”

Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum, said sex education was neglected in too many schools and urged all political parties to make a manifesto commitment to change the law to make the subject statutory.

PSHE Association chief executive Joe Hayman said statutory status for the subject would be “a huge step forward”.

Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt said Labour would make age-appropriate sex and relationship education compulsory in all state schools.

“Children and young people should be taught the importance of respect and healthy relationships and to understand the role of the family – in all its forms,” said Mr Hunt.