Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has expressed his frustration at the failure of the Cabinet to agree on the need to “improve” and “modernise” sex education guidance.
Speaking on Wednesday evening at a reception for sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), the Liberal Democrat leader warned that “wrangles in the Coalition Government” had meant schools were relying on guidance that hadn’t been updated for 13 years.
“I think there is a special need for us to improve, strengthen, modernise and update the way that we provide sex and relationship guidance and education in schools,” Mr Clegg said.
“I won’t lift the lid on the fair number of wrangles in the Coalition Government about this,” he added, causing his audience to laugh. “All the people around the Cabinet table don’t quite see eye-to-eye on this, but I am absolutely clear that we haven’t modernised the guidance. We need to do so and we need to do so as fast as we possibly can.”
Speaking at a select committee on violence against women on Tuesday, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I think we can do better in terms of sex and relationship education. “We must focus on healthy relationships, and I think we can add onto the guidance that’s produced, better guidance on, for instance, problems of cyber-bullying, sexting – we need to deal with that.”
However, Education Secretary Michael Gove previously warned that sex education in schools would not be modernised because “changing social mores” will only make fresh advice out of date. He also said that “the right thing to do is to trust teachers”.
In his speech Mr Clegg mentioned how improved sex and relationship education (SRE) could help in the fight against rising HIV cases among gay and bisexual men.
Suggesting Mr Gove’s approach was misguided, Mr Clegg said that improved sex education “shouldn’t be held back by a reluctance to work with school leaders, to work with the education establishment [in order] to introduce that transformation because it will, in my view, have a huge knock on effect on awareness, on challenging the ignorance that is still out there, and so helping to collectively reduce those persistently high levels of undiagnosed cases.”
Speaking exclusively to PinkNews.co.uk after his speech, Mr Clegg said he had been alarmed by recent revelations that internet service providers have been blocking access to non-pornographic LGBT and sexual health websites.
Following revelations last summer that scores of schools still erroneously had Section 28-style language in their sex education policies, Mr Clegg told PinkNews.co.uk in September 2013: “How children talk to each other and are encouraged to talk to each other about love and about relationships – I think that is an immensely important area – and generally we are a bit out-of-date in the ways in which we provide guidance to schools to talk about sex and relationships.”
On Thursday, the Department for Education (DfE) ruled out changing the original guidance from 2000, but for the first time disclosed that it is working on “new advice produced by experts groups”, which will be emailed to all headteachers to use in conjunction with the existing teaching materials.
The PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) Association, Brook and the Sex Education Forum are the three organisations writing the new information for the government.
“Experts are best placed to help schools keep sex education up-to-date. Rather than continually re-writing government guidance, we think it is much better to direct schools to the latest advice produced by experts groups,” a Department for Education spokesperson said to PinkNews.co.uk.
“Experts are best placed to help schools keep sex education up-to-date. Rather than continually re-writing government guidance, we think it is much better to direct schools to the latest advice produced by experts groups.
“They are currently writing additional guidance on, among other topics, sexting, violence against women and the dangers of pornography.”