The Education Secretary has rejected a recommendation for statutory inclusive sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools – but says she will continue to ‘review’ the issue in future.
A recent report found that half of all UK school pupils are being put at risk due to inconsistent sex and relationships education – while campaigners have warned that issues including sexuality, gender, consent and domestic violence are often not routinely covered in what SRE provisions are available.
Parliament’s Education Select Committee last year recommended that inclusive SRE should become a statutory requirement in all schools as part of PSHE, after an inquiry.
Writing for PinkNews, Committee chair Neil Carmichael quoted findings that “the most effective way of improving the sexual health of the nation is through education”, and that the government is “simply not doing enough” to push on the issue.
However, in a letter to Mr Carmichael today, Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan once again declined to take up the recommendation.
She wrote: “The Education Select Committee’s report in February 2015 highlighted a number of concerns with the teaching of PSHE and made recommendations to improve it, including through making it statutory.
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“I have also received your joint letter, signed by the respective Chairs of the Health, Home Affairs and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees, supporting the Committee’s recommendation to make PSHE and sex and relationships education (SRE) statutory in all schools.
“I agree with your Committee and the signatories of the letter that PSHE is a crucial part of preparing young people for life.
“The vast majority of schools already make provision for PSHE and while the Government agrees that making PSHE statutory would give it equal status with other subjects, the Government is concerned that this would do little to tackle the most pressing problems with the subject, which are to do with the variable quality of its provision, as evidenced by Ofsted’s finding that 40% of PSHE teaching is less than good.
“As such, while we will continue to keep the status of PSHE in the curriculum under review, our immediate focus will be on improving the quality of PSHE teaching in our schools.”
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, said: “Today, the Government announced it won’t be following the recommendation of the Education Select Committee by making PSHE and SRE compulsory in all schools despite repeated calls from MPs, teachers and health organisations.
“This means it will continue to be delivered according to the whims of individual head teachers rather than the needs of young people. We are extremely disappointed.
“In her statement on the subject, the Minister says she wishes instead to focus on addressing the huge variability in the quality of PSHE and SRE, which ironically is the very reason why giving the subject statutory status is absolutely essential.”
She added: “In our survey of young gay and bisexual men in 2014, we found 75% had never received information on relationships and being attracted to other guys and 33% had never received information about how HIV is passed on.
“The number of young men diagnosed with HIV has doubled in the past 10 years, yet the Government seems willing to continue to allow a situation where some schools simply don’t have to discuss these topics beyond basic information in a science lesson.
“We will continue to fight for PSHE and SRE in all schools and for all young people. We don’t call for statutory status as the solution to all our problems, we call for it as the bare minimum.”