An attempt by MPs to make Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) compulsory in all UK schools has failed after being voted down in a parliamentary committee.
In addition to information on the biology of sex, SRE provides information and guidance in areas such as consent, relationships, abuse, and LGBT issues. Under current legislation, however, it is mandatory only in schools managed by local authorities.
Despite hints from Education Secretary Justine Greening that she was willing to reform existing law, Conservative MPs on a committee considering an amendment voted against any change. According to junior education minister Edward Timpson the proposal was incomplete and its potential repercussions meant it needed further consideration.
The parliamentary decision not to make SRE compulsory goes against the view of teachers, parents and pupils.
70% of 11-15 year-olds in England believe all children should have school lessons on sex and relationships and 75% think that making SRE compulsory would make them safer according to Barnardos.
Currently, only state schools offer compulsory Sex Education lessons from age 11. Parents can chose to withdraw their child from parts of it. Sex Education classes focus on the biological aspects of sex. As a result of the vote, independent, fee-paying schools and schools which are state-funded but not managed by local authorities (such as academies) are still free not to teach SRE. Many do choose to do so but standards are not monitored.
MP Stella Creasy, who introduced the amendment, remarked that millions of children are not getting the information they need.
The UK still has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe. In 2015, 9.9 out of 1,000 abortions were under 18s. Research has established that high-quality SRE helps to prevent teenage pregnancy.
Population Matters is a member of the Sex Education Forum, a coalition of organisations which have been pressing for compulsory, universal SRE in UK schools. In September, the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee called for mandatory SRE in its report on widespread sexual harassment of female students in schools.
Support our campaign to make Sex and Relationships Education mandatory in schools.