After years of campaigning the government in England has finally agreed this is one fight it doesn’t have to win.
I suppose the lesson ultimately is that when one is under attack on every front in relation to education - the funding cuts, the failure of some Free Schools to attract both children and staff, the corrupt practices scandals in some academies, and rapidly falling number of teachers at a time of huge rises in the numbers of pupils and students - then something has to give.
And the first thing to give was revealed last week: sex education.
From the moment the government’s “guidance” on sex education was published in 2000 it came under attack as “hopelessly inadequate” for the modern world. And that was in 2000 when the level of cyberbullying, pornography, sexting, grooming, and abuse on line was running at about 0.001% of present levels.
So, 16 years on the education secretary, Justine Greening, has admitted that existing statutory guidance made no mention of what she called “modern issues.”
At present sex education is compulsory only in LA secondary schools. The new proposal extends this to academies, private schools, and religious free schools.
Parents will, however, still be able to withdraw their children from sex education lessons, and schools will be able to choose how they run sex education classes in a way that is “sensitive to the needs of the local community” and religious beliefs.
That final opt out has already raised major concerns. The British Humanist Association called the proposal “a step in the right direction”, but expressed concern about the faith schools opt out. It’s chief executive said, “A child’s access to accurate, evidence-based and relevant information, designed for the simple purpose of keeping them safe, should not be dependent on their religious or non-religious background, nor on the type of school to which they happen to have been sent. It should be clear to everyone that either all children have a right to this education, or no such right exists.”
Stephen Evans, the campaigns director of the National Secular Society, said: “This sounds like children from minority faith groups will be totally left behind by the government’s proposals. Under this approach, children who happen to be born into conservative religious groups will still be without proper sex and relationships education.”
The former women and equalities secretary Maria Miller, who had led a revolt of Conservative MPs on the government’s previous policy of doing nothing, said that “the overwhelming majority of parents and children were clear they wanted relationship and sex education to be a compulsory part of every child’s education.”
David Burrowes, the Conservative MP leading the challenge against his own party in government, said, “It’s a victory for our cross-party, cross-interests coalition but above all it’s a victory for parents and children, and those vulnerable children who most need support to build healthy relationships.”
As a result of the proposed changes children will be taught about healthy adult relationships from the age of four with sex education being added from the age of 11.
Labour had previously tried to introduce statutory personal, social, health, and economic education lessons into schools that would have to include education on sex and relationships, same-sex relationships, sexual consent, sexual violence and domestic violence. That, however, failed to gain support.
The changes will come into effect from September 2019 but there is nothing to stop schools adopting the new approach earlier.
The Department for Education has said it will lead a “comprehensive programme of engagement to set out age-appropriate subject content and identify the support schools need to deliver high-quality teaching.” It has also been announced that both the regulations and statutory guidance will be subject to full public consultation before being introduced.
The proposed amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill will also create a power enabling the government to make regulations requiring PSHE to be taught in all academies, LA and independent schools. PSHE education is a non-statutory subject on the school curriculum. However, section 2.5 of the national curriculum states that all state schools 'should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education drawing on good practice'.
Barnardo's chief executive, Javed Khan, said: "We are thrilled the government has listened to our campaign to provide all school children with age-appropriate school lessons on sex and healthy relationships to help keep them safe.
"Barnardo's has long campaigned for this vital education so children can better understand the dangers in the real world and online. We believe this will give children the knowledge and skills they need to help prevent them being groomed and sexually exploited."
If you would like to discuss the issue of promoting products and services in relation to the revisions to PSHE and sex education in schools in the coming years, we would be very happy to discuss this with you.