Big Debate: Should children at school have sex education
13:33 10 July 2013
A group of angry mothers recently held a protest outside a primary school to voice their anger that children are being taught about sex during science lessons.
There are those who object to sex education being smuggled into the nation’s schools under the guise of the national curriculum. Some parents feel their children are given details that are too explicit.
Health professionals argue that although most young people don’t have sex before they are 16, many will have by the time they are 17. They are entitled to information and skills to protect their health now and in their futures.
Justine CottleJustine Cottle,Young People’s Sexual Health Services Manager
Shine, East London NHS Foundation Trust
“I’ve taught sex and relationships education (SRE) in primary and secondary schools across East London. All those classes were keen to learn, willing to explore opinions, debate issues and impatient to ask questions.
Good SRE, delivered by confident adults, increases children’s knowledge about their health and wellbeing. It supports them to develop positive attitudes to themselves and others. SRE equips them with communication and relationship skills and the ability to resist pressure and media and internet messages.
Failing to provide good SRE leaves children and young people vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, fear, misinformation and ill health. Children have the right to education, protection and healthcare. Providing a broad SRE curriculum, that responds when children begin to ask about bodies and babies and develops as they do, is our responsibility.
Most parents want their children to receive good SRE and teachers and pupils value it. In a Year 7 SRE class you can easily see who had good grounding lessons in primary. Research shows that comprehensive SRE discourages early sex and encourages condom use, reducing teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections amongst young people.
Most young people don’t have sex before they are 16, but many will have by 17. They are entitled to information and skills to protect their health now and in their futures.
SRE needs improvement. OFSTED has criticised primary schools for not preparing children for puberty. Secondary school pupils report SRE can be too little, too late and too biological.
To support children and young people into adulthood, we must listen to their views about SRE. To ensure every child benefits SRE will, like Science, need to be compulsory in schools.”
Antonia Tully, Safe at School campaign, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
“Every summer my inbox is full of emails from parents about the sex education their children are receiving in primary school.
Many of these parents are shocked that schools are showing children graphic images of sex organs and sexual intercourse. Schools are not legally obliged to use these explicit teaching resources or to teach children anything about sex.
Sex education is not a compulsory subject, which means that schools can choose not to teach it and parents can choose to remove children from sex education classes. Many schools do not give full disclosure of what they are going to teach.
Meetings on sex education are often announced at short notice and scheduled at times difficult for parents to attend and it is not made clear to them that they can withdraw their children.
I hear about schools suggesting that parents who withdraw their children from sex education have to explain how they will educate them about sex at home. It is none of the schools’ business how or when parents choose to talk about sex to their own children.
Tower Hamlets Council is wrong to say: “All primary schools are required by law to teach every child the scientific aspects of human reproduction, which includes naming the body parts and reproduction.”
There is nothing in the primary curriculum for science which mandates schools to teach children at Key Stages 1 and 2 about sexual organs and sexual intercourse in humans. Teachers are interpreting the curriculum to mean this.
The mantra from sexual health experts and government is that every child has the right to high-quality sex education. Yet when parents see the provocative images in the £80,000 Christopher Winter Project, widely used in Tower Hamlets schools, they wonder what benefit this is for their children.
Most parents feel instinctively that exposing children to sex in the classroom contributes to sexualising them. And they would be right.”