Ed Balls launches 21st century sex and relationship education

25 January 2010

Young peopleYoung people will be taught how to deal with the pressure and intimidation often caused by exposure to sexual content in the media and on the internet and mobile phones, Ed Balls announced today.

Children will also learn about the importance of marriage and stable relationships to family life, and the value of delaying sexual experiences.

Updated guidance on sex and relationship education (SRE) will be given to schools to help them teach young people how to cope with the pressure they often face from peers and the media. Secondary school pupils will be encouraged to discuss the myths around growing up, sex and relationships that they hear from friends, helping them to put media stories and images into context.

This SRE will be taught within lessons on personal, social and health education (PSHE). The Government is currently legislating to make PSHE compulsory and to lower the age at which parents can withdraw their children from PSHE from 19 to 15 years. The content of PSHE will be consulted on again prior to it becoming statutory.

Drafted by an expert group representing teachers, health charities, faith groups and young people, this new guidance offers information and advice appropriate for today’s society where children cannot always be protected from exposure to harmful or misleading sexual content.

Key issues essential to effective SRE

The SRE guidance will set out the key issues essential to effective SRE, including:

* explaining the challenges and responsibilities of parenthood
* teaching SRE in line with the school’s values and ethos, and ensuring parents are consulted on what is being taught
* giving teachers access to high-quality up-to-date support and training to assist with their delivery of SRE.
* highlighting the importance of marriage and other strong and stable relationships for bringing up children and promoting the importance of love and respect in relationships
* helping young people stand up to pressures to lose their virginity and to respect the choices other people make regarding sex and relationships.

The content of the SRE curriculum will also be appropriate to the age of the child, for example

* Primary school children will gain a basic understanding of where babies come from, the correct names for parts of the body and to listen to other people and play and work cooperatively.
* Secondary school pupils will develop the skills and confidence to say no if they are not ready for a sexual relationship and learn how to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections when they do become sexually active.

SRE places the knowledge about human development, puberty and sex that young people already learn in science lessons into the context of relationships, health and personal choices. This allows young people to make well-informed decisions about their lives and to grow up safe, healthy and able to enjoy the benefits of respectful and responsible relationships.

SRE in schools also provides a safe place for children and young people to make sense of the information they have picked up from the media and the playground that may be misleading and potentially harmful.

Regarding the updated guidance, Ed Balls said:

Young people today grow up in a very different world to the one their parents knew as children. New technologies and a 24 hour media mean that young people are increasingly exposed to images and content that can make them feel pressure to be sexually active before they are ready and can give them misleading information about relationships and growing up.

We want to give young people the facts so that they can stay safe and healthy. We also want young people to understand the importance of marriage and other stable relationships – these are the bedrock of family life, the best way to bring up children and the kind of relationships we want young people to develop as they get older.

We know that 82 per cent of parents support the teaching of sex and relationship education in schools and young people themselves have told us how much they value SRE, telling us it helps them make sense of their relationships and the myths and images they are exposed to.

Today we are consulting on the guidance schools will receive to help them deliver top quality SRE. Teachers, faith groups, young people and health charities have drafted this guidance with us, now we want the wider public to have their say.

Oona Stannard, Director, Catholic Education Service, said:

Today's draft guidance for SRE is a positive step forward. SRE is rightly a very sensitive issue but also a crucial one, never more so than in these times when the media, advertising and other material so often gives young people a false impression of relationships, underestimating their importance, and bombarding children and young people with sexual imagery.

The draft guidance helps support schools in counteracting this from within their own carefully planned SRE programmes, involving parents and governors, and reflecting the ethos and values of the individual school. I hope that as many people as possible will take the time to read and comment upon the Guidance during this consultation phase so that the best possible outcomes may be achieved.

Anna Martinez, Co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum said:

We welcome this revised guidance. Schools have a vital role to play in making sure that children and young people have the right information and skills they need to make safe, healthy and responsible life choices. Teachers have been calling for better guidance on how to teach sex and relationships education (SRE), and confident teachers are vital for good quality SRE. We encourage all teachers to respond to the consultation.

Jacob Rix, Youth Parliament MP, said:

For years young people have been concerned about the quality of SRE they have received at schools, if any, and have tirelessly campaigned for the right for every young person, regardless of background, school, or faith to learn about sex and relationships. This revised guidance is an important step in ensuring good quality, and factually accurate, SRE. We urge all young people to take the time to take the time to respond to this consultation, ensuring young people are at the core of the new curriculum.

The final guidance will be circulated to schools for the start of the next academic year in September 2010. Although the revised guidance will be set within the current legislative framework it will reflect the Government’s intention to make PSHE education statutory.

Provisions to make PSHE statutory are included in the Children, Schools and Families Bill currently before parliament. New guidance will then be issued to schools in 2011 to reflect the change in the law. This will be based on and will strongly reflect the guidance being consulted on today.

Further information

The consultation is available from DCSF's website.

The list of stakeholders involved in developing the draft guidance were as follows:

* Sex Education Forum
* Ofsted
* Catholic Education Service
* Church of England Board of Education
* Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group
* National Governors association
* PSHE teachers
* primary and secondary school head teachers
* UK Youth Parliament Members
* the PSHE Association
* an equalities adviser
* Waltham Forest local authority
* Parents Association
* Image in Action (representing special educational needs).

The press notice concerning the Government’s plans to make PSHE compulsory, is available from the DCSF website.

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