Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) will be made compulsory in all English schools in 2019.
Secretary of Education Justine Greening made the announcement today (1 March).
‘I am today announcing my intention to put Relationships and Sex Education on a statutory footing, so every child has access to age appropriate provision, in a consistent way,’ the official Parliamentary announcement reads.
‘I am also announcing my intention to take a power that will enable me to make PSHE [Personal, Social and Health Education] statutory in future, following further departmental work and consultation on subject content.’
She also called current statutory SRE guidelines, which came into force in 2000, ‘outdated’ and said they failed to address risks children face today.
Under the new rule, all children from the age of four will learn about safe and healthy relationships.
As soon as they reach an appropriate age – given as secondary school in the announcement – students will also be taught about safe sex.
Charlie Ann Mathers, speaking on behalf of Student Pride, said compulsory SRE would ‘liberate a generation of young people’.
‘We’re now looking at the details, because it must also be Same Sex inclusive and cover gender identities for LGBT+ young people to be freed of growing up under a toxic shame of their identity,’ she said.
Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said the ‘silence has finally been broken’ by Greening’s announcement.
‘We are grateful that the government has finally listened to all of the parents, teachers, campaigners and above all, young people, who have been calling for compulsory Sex and Relationships Education for years and who could no longer be ignored,’ he said.
‘With one in seven young people not receiving any Sex and Relationships Education at all, this landmark decision could potentially change young lives for generations to come.’
Green said there was nothing in place to safeguard youth, and not being taught about consent, abuse or what healthy relationships look like.
He also said LGBTI issues needed to be included in the new policy, ‘in order to fully address the sexual and mental health crisis among young people’.
‘We will need to ensure that any legislation around SRE has a strong emphasis on neglected topics such as sexual health and on LGBT relationships, in order to tackle high rates of STIs among young people and ongoing homophobia in our school corridors,’ Green said.
‘To deliver real change for young people, the government must also ensure teachers get allocated time, resource and training to do justice to this vital subject. With the budget announcement expected next week, now is the time to invest in SRE.
‘Only then can we ensure that all young people – wherever they go to school, and whatever their sexuality – are empowered to make positive and informed decisions and to have healthy relationships, which they are ready for, and want.’
Speaking to Gay Star News, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said it was too early to comment on how much space LGBTI issues will be granted.
While parents will still have a right to withdraw their children from sex ed classes, Greening wants to ensure all schools have to offer it.
Currently, only council-run and independent schools in England have to offer SRE, while academies and maintained schools can opt out.
Once the change comes into effect in 2019, Greening said schools will have flexibility in how they deliver the subject.
Faith schools will ‘continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith’.
It is currently unclear whether they will be able to leave out any LGBTI content, should it be included in the change.