An attempt to introduce age-appropriate compulsory sex education in state-funded schools has been rebuffed by peers. An amendment introducing sex education – including information about sexual relationships, same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and consent – as a foundation curriculum subject was voted down by 209 to 142.
First to speak was Labour’s education spokesperson, Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, who urged peers to recognise: “Universal access to the internet, social media, smartphones and music videos is sexualising children with profound and often damaging consequences.” “As policymakers we are behind the curve on this issue,” she continued. Crossbencher Baroness Kidron, who directed the documentary film InRealLife on children and the internet, said this type of change was needed to offset “young people, curious about sex, finding themselves in a world of non-consensual sexual violence”. Further support came from the Bishop of Leicester, a former chair of the Children’s Society, who argued children need help to “find their way through a complex labyrinthine world” of friendships, intimacy and relationships.
But several peers disagreed, with Lib Dem Baroness Walmsley calling the amendment “a patchy solution” to a problem she thought would be better-solved through the wider Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education agenda. Conservative peer Baroness Eaton said she did not feel “legislation is always the answer” and that she “would be very concerned about how we would guarantee the quality of that kind of teaching”. Responding for the government, Education Minister Lord Nash was worried that making sex education part of the curriculum would “remove from teachers and governors any control over their schools’ approach”. He drew attention to the government’s requirement that PSHE is taught in schools and announced it has extended its funding for the PSHE Teachers’ Association for another year.
Opposition peers were not satisfied and called a division, which the government won with a majority of 67.