The government’s decision to maintain sex education as a non-statutory subject has been criticised by the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

Christine Blower believes it will weaken efforts to tackle homophobic bullying.

Delegates at the NUT’s spring conference have passed a motion in protest at the Department of Education’s decision, which was taken last month.

Christine Blower said: “It is important for all children and young people to learn, in an age-appropriate manner, about respect for their own and other people’s bodies and emotions.

“This is all the more important given the rising levels of pornography which is very much in the public domain. There also continues to be a high rate of sexual harassment and homophobic bullying in society at large, despite efforts in schools to address and reduce it.”

In response, a Department for Education spokesman said: “Ministers are clear about the importance of PSHE (personal, social and health education) – that is why it remains part of pupils’ education. PSHE encompasses a number of different areas, many of which are compulsory.

“Beyond that it is right that teachers are given the freedom to tailor PSHE to the pupils whose needs they know best. We are funding the PSHE Association to demonstrate best practice in covering the subject.

“Sex and relationship education is compulsory in maintained secondary schools and it remains for primary schools to decide whether they want to teach it. All teaching of sex education must be age-appropriate and have regard to the secretary of state’s guidance.”

In March, Diversity Role Models Chair Simon Blake said: “Schools should be teaching the principles of equality and inclusion that the majority on the government front bench believe in. We need a statutory PSHE curriculum to ensure sexualities and diversity is included in PSHE to reduce homophobic bullying.”

“Leaving it up to schools to teach what they want in PSHE lessons creates a postcode lottery and we know from our work that homosexuality and homophobia are often left out of the curriculum.”