Opinion Former Article

Government in plans to make SRE compulsory in all schools and to scrap parental opt out?

Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) could soon be made compulsory in all schools, including ‘faith’ schools, with no right for parents to withdraw their children, it has been reported.

Under proposals that are apparently to be included as part of amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill currently going through Parliament, all state schools will be required to teach SRE that includes information on pornography, sexting, domestic violence, and consent. The British Humanist Association (BHA), whose Campaigns Manager is a member of the advisory group of the Sex Education Forum and has long campaigned for statutory SRE in schools, has welcomed the reports, while stressing the need for the subject to be comprehensive and inclusive.

Currently, local authority maintained schools are only required to provide the sex education elements of the national curriculum (anatomy, reproduction, puberty etc), and some information on STIs and HIV/AIDS. Free schools and academies, however, are not required to teach any SRE or Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education (PSHE) at all. The Government is reportedly now considering a move both to make the subject at least somewhat compulsory in all schools and to broaden the teaching that must be included in it.

Furthermore, in all schools parents currently have the right to opt their children out of SRE, but the report suggests that the Government is now mulling over whether this ‘right of withdrawal’ could be removed, and that ‘faith’ schools, some of which have opposed teaching about issues like same sex relationships and the use of contraception, will also be subject to the new requirements.

The news follows a report published by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee in September exposing ‘the shocking scale of sexual harassment and sexual violence’ in schools, and recommending that ‘PSHE and SRE are made statutory subjects’ to address the problem. No fewer than five parliamentary committees have made similar recommendations in recent months.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘Sex and Relationships Education is important because it equips children with the information and skills they need to stay safe, healthy, and happy. Children deserve and are entitled to this education regardless of the kind of school they have had chosen for them, or of the religion of their parents, so it’s absolutely right both that SRE should be compulsory in all schools and that no child should miss out on it by being opted out.

‘If the Government is serious about them, these proposals could represent a significant step forward in the effort to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our children, but any compulsory element of Sex and Relationships Education must be comprehensive in order to be as effective as it needs to be. We look forward to working with the Department for Education to ensure that the subject is comprehensive, high-quality, and inclusive of all pupils.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigner on jay@humanism.org.uk or 07970 393680.

Read the BHA’s previous news item: ‘Young people denied education for safe relationships in schools in England – BHA responds to Women and Equalities Committee consultation’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/07/11/bha-criticises-government-stance-on-pshe-and-sre-in-submission-to-women-and-equalities-committee/

Read our previous news item ‘Government decides against statutory PSHE despite overwhelming support and expert evidence’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/02/10/government-decides-against-statutory-pshe-despite-overwhelming-support-and-expert-evidence/

Read more about the BHA’s work on PSHE and Sex and Relationships Education:https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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