An amendment that failed to be carried in the Lords in favour of making sex and relationship education compulsory at all ages was dismissed by Schools Minister Lord Nash as “not necessarily being the solution to life’s ills”.
Last night peers rejected a Labour amendment to the Children and Families Bill, which would have make sex education, including lessons on same-sex relationships, compulsory across state-funded primary and secondary schools.
The amendment received the support of just 142 peers compared to the 209 who voted against it.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Lord Nash, a Tory member of the government, said: “The amendment extends the current statutory requirement to teach SRE, which applies to key stages 3 and 4 in maintained secondary schools, by legislating for all compulsory SRE in primary schools and all academies.
“ It would mean compulsory SRE for children as young as six. Many primary schools already choose to teach SRE according to children’s age and development, consulting their parents and using age-appropriate resources.”
Lord Nash went on to say: “The new science curriculum will also ensure that pupils are taught about puberty in primary school, which is an issue identified in the Ofsted report.
“We believe that this is the best approach, with the right balance between legal requirement and professional judgment, taking account of the evidence about child development and maintaining the support of parents.
“The amendment would disturb this balance, and remove from teachers and governors any control over their school’s approach to SRE.
“It would also impose on academies a new requirement, when in fact the vast majority of academies already teach SRE as part of their responsibility to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, and a fully rounded education.”
Lord Nash said: “I agree entirely with my noble friend Lady Eaton that this is a very good example of legislation not necessarily being the solution to life’s ills. As my noble friend Lord Storey, who has vast experience of more than 20 years as a primary school head, said, this is a matter of practice and not something that we can solve through legislation.”
He added: “The other part of this amendment would require schools, when teaching SRE, to include same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent across all key stages. By virtue of Amendment 53ZAAA, it would mean compulsory teaching of these issues for children as young as six. The statutory guidance already covers these very important topics, and all schools must have regard to the guidance when teaching SRE.”
Prior to the Commons vote, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told PinkNews.co.uk that the government needed to make it a statutory requirement in order to address the health challenges faced by LGBT students.
Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg expressed his frustration at the failure of the Cabinet to agree on the need to “improve” and “modernise” sex education guidance during a speech at a Terrence Higgins Trust event.
In an interview afterwards to PinkNews.co.uk, the Lib Dem leader said updating sex education could help in the fight against rising HIV cases among gay and bisexual men.
The Department for Education announced it would be working on “new advice produced by experts groups”, which will be emailed to all headteachers to use in conjunction with the existing teaching materials.
However, SRE would remain a non-statutory subject.
The PSHE Association, Brook and the Sex Education Forum are the three organisations writing the new information for the government.