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ss triple helix - spring 2017,  Sex and Relationships Education

Sex and Relationships Education

Should it be compulsory or not?

The Government has announced that Sex and Relationships Education will be made compulsory in all schools, from age four.

The drive to do so seems unstoppable given that 'the numbers of STI diagnoses in those aged 15 to 24 years has risen considerably'. (1) Supporters of relationship education believe it will also help protect children from cyber bullying, pornography, 'sexting' and other such challenges. But will compulsory SRE solve these problems?

First, the vast majority of pupils in school do receive sex and relationships education. Only in academies, independent and primary schools was it not compulsory, and the majority take this area of education seriously.

Yet, despite widespread SRE STIs among young people continue to increase, faster than any other group. (2) A recent, large, Cochrane study found that sex education programmes do not reduce pregnancy or STIs. (3) This does not suggest that teaching SRE in every school will improve things.

The key issue is the basis and thinking behind sex education. Organisations behind the long-term drive for compulsory sex education (the PSHE Association, Sex Education Forum etc) champion 'nonjudgmental' sex education, devoid of context such as marriage, family life, fidelity or exclusivity. It is all about individual choice - with consent. Could this change under the new Government proposals?(4)

That said, there are a couple of welcome proposals. One is the name, it will be called RSE - relationships and sex education. While this is word games it does reveal priorities by putting relationships first and placing sex in context. Second, schools will be able to teach RSE in line with their faith.

However, while parental withdrawal will be maintained for secondary schools, there will be no opt out at all for primary school pupils. Even for secondary schools the opt out provisions will be limited (only for the 'sex' part) and probably only up to age 15.

Parental concerns about making sex education compulsory have partly stemmed from concerns that children will be exposed to unsuitable materials which sexualises them (see this example) (5) while approaches based on encouraging young people to exercise self-control or chastity, and encouraging parental involvement, have attracted very little support and often outright opposition. Moral confusion has resulted from abandoning moral absolutes. The relativistic approach advocated by campaigners for compulsory SRE can actually make it easier for vulnerable children to be exploited.

Sexual intimacy is something valuable and worthy of respect. (6) If this is taught under the new Government proposals then it will be a positive development, however more likely will be pressure for ever more explicit sex education. Sex education is an ideological battlefield that impacts children from a young age. The danger is that a Government-funded strategy of undermining parents and pulling down traditional moral standards may well prevail.

Review by Philippa Taylor CMF Head of Public Policy

  1. Public Health England. Health Protection Report: infection report. PHE; 10(22) 5 July 2016
  2. Taylor P. Teenage pregnancies - three responses to three false presuppositions. CMF Blogs 10 October 2012
  3. Taylor P. Sex education programmes are largely ineffectual and do not reduce teen pregnancy or STI rates, says large new research review. CMF Blogs 15 November 2016
  4. Department for Education and Greening J. Schools to teach 21st century relationships and sex education. 1 March 2017
  5. The Christian Institute. Too much too young: Exposing primary school sex education materials.
  6. 1 Corinthians 6:13-20
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