Sex education is to be made compulsory for all pupils, prompting fury from faith groups which said that the move would contravene the right for children to be educated in accordance with their parents’ beliefs.All 15-year-olds must receive at least one year of sex and relationship lessons, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said yesterday. Those whose religious or moral values prevent them from attending will be classed as truants and may be punished by the school. Until now parents could opt out of lessons about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and homosexuality until their children were 19.
Roman Catholic and Muslim groups said they would strongly oppose the move. Shahid Akmal, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain’s education board, said he would challenge the laws, which he called an imposition. “It is always better for the parents to talk to children about sex rather than the school over which the parents have no control,” he said.
The Catholic Education Service for England and Wales said it was “disappointed” that the “blanket right to withdrawal” had been removed.
Mr Balls said that lowering the age to 15 was “the most balanced, most practical and legally enforceable way” to satisfy the rights of parent and children. The move is central to the Government’s attempts to lower the teenage pregnancy rate, which rose for the first time since 2002, according to the latest figures. There were 41.9 conceptions per 1,000 15 to 17-year-olds in 2007, up from 40.9 the year before. England has the highest rates of teenage mothers in Western Europe.
Yesterday’s decision, which is part of the move to put sex and drugs education on the national curriculum for the first time, comes after a two-year review and consultation.The Government is pressing ahead despite its own research, which shows that the move is heavily opposed, with 79 per cent of the population backing the right of parents to exempt their children. One in three people in the survey of more than 6,000 said that this right should not be restricted by the child’s age.
Under current rules, schoolchildren must be taught the biological facts of reproduction, usually during science classes. Every school has a sex education policy, but at present there is no statutory requirement for teaching about relationships or the social and emotional side of sexual behaviour.
Under the new laws, to be enforced in 2011, schools will teach about the importance of marriage, civil partnerships and stable relationships in family life, as well as how to have sex.
Mr Balls said: “Sex and relationship education is a very important element and we see it as crucial to our drive to reduce teenage pregnancy.”
Gill Frances, chairman of the Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy, welcomed the new legislation.
“We believe this is the biggest single step that can reduce teenage pregnancy rates,” she said.
“Evidence shows that sex and relationships education helps young people delay early sex and make healthy choices when they eventually do become sexually active.”Link