An announcement from the government has confirmed that Sex and relationships education (SRE) is to become compulsory in all English schools.
Education Secretary Justine Greening has said that all children from the age of four will be required to learn about relationships, with the aim being to educate them in what is safe and healthy.
Until this decision, sex education was only mandatory in schools run by the local council. As academies and similar institutions are not under the control of local authorities, they are under no obligation to follow the national curriculum, meaning they are not required to teach SRE.
In reality, most of the schools do already teach the subject, however, those that don’t will now have meet the national standard.
The lessons will be age-appropriate, and will focus on topics including safe relationships, sex and sexting.
The focus for primary schools will be on the safe and healthy relationships aspect of SRE, whereas secondary schools will teach about sex and staying safe in sexual relationships.
In an interview with the BBC, Ms Greening said: “At the moment, many schools teach sex and relationships education.
“But it’s not mandatory, and, therefore, for many children, they are not coming out of our schools really being equipped to deal with the modern world or indeed be safe and protected from some of the very modern challenges that young people face on cyberbullying and sexting.
“What we’re introducing today is mandatory relationships and sex education in all secondary schools, but also mandatory relationships education in primary schools as well.”
Critics of the policy claim that it weakens the power of parents, with
Christian Concern saying it was not the state’s job to decide what should be taught in this area.
Chief executive Andrea Williams told the BBC: “Children need to be protected, and certainly when they’re [still at primary school], we need to be guarding their innocence.
“We need to be protecting them from things, working with parents to ensure that what they might need to know – which will be different for every child, different in every context across the country – is properly looked at.
“But this is something that should be individualised, not something that the state can deliver wholesale.”
Safe at School Campaign, run by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, described the announcement as a “tragedy”.
National co-ordinator Antonia Tully said: “Parents will be absolutely powerless to protect their children from presentations of sexual activity, which we know is part of many sex education teaching resources for primary school children.
“The state simply cannot safeguard children in the same way that parents can. This proposal is sending a huge message to parents that they are unfit to teach their own children about sex.”
School leaders, however, welcomed the news.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It is so important for young people to be taught about appropriate relationships, and the duties set out today bring that one step closer.”
Ms Greening’s announcement follows a widespread campaign by charities, MPs and local authorities, calling for (SRE) to be made a statutory for all schools.
At the end of last year, the chairmen and women of five different Commons select committees called on Ms Greening to make SRE a statutory subject.