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Former Culture Secretary launches campaign for mandatory sex education

Nick Duffy January 18, 2017
and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP

and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP

Former Tory cabinet minister Secretary Maria Miller has launched a fresh push to make sex and relationship education mandatory in all schools.

Last week advocates of LGBT-inclusive SRE were left disappointed when a Labour-led amendment to make the subject mandatory in schools was blocked by Tory MPs in a bill committee vote, before even reaching the floor of the Commons.

But Conservative MP and former Culture Secretary Maria Miller, the chair of Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, is not giving up on the issue – and launched a new push to pressure the government this week.

Mrs Miller, who was honoured with a PinkNews Award in 2015 for her fierce advocacy on LGBT issues, pressed Education Secretary Justine Greening to make good on her promise to pursue SRE reform, urging Ms Greening to “make age appropriate Sex and Relationship Education statutory” in all schools.

Referring to polling from children’s charity Bernardo’s, Mrs Miller said in a statement to PinkNews: “Children are clear they want SRE to be compulsory and are calling for the Government to help make that happen.

“Cyberbullying, online abuse and sexual harassment in schools are all part of teenage life in Britain today. Children are asking Government to put compulsory SRE in place to help them cope better and to feel safer.

“Leading charities such as Barnardo’s, National Children’s Bureau, Plan International UK, Terrence Higgins Trust and The Children’s Society are all supporting this important call for action to make SRE compulsory for all school age children.”

Javed Khan of Barnardo’s said: “Barnardo’s has long campaigned for age appropriate compulsory sex and relationship education (SRE) for all children in England as we know this essential information will help protect them.

“In our poll of almost 1,000 11 to 15 year olds in England last week, the overwhelming majority told us they would be safer if they had SRE school lessons.

“All children are vulnerable to online grooming, and they have told us they want help to understand the digital dangers and risks around sharing images of themselves.

“We know parents want their children to have SRE lessons too. Last year 8 in 10 parents said SRE would help their child understand sexual behavior and keep them safer.

“Our specialist services sees firsthand the effects grooming and exploitation has on children. The government must give all children the knowledge to help protect them.”

Ian Green, exec of HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Sex and Relationships Education is a safeguarding necessity, but our recent report showed that 1 in 7 young people missed out on SRE completely.

“Where it is happening, it’s only covering the biological basics and rarely covers vital issues such as consent, LGBT relationships and HIV. This can have devastating effects on young people’s sexual and mental health.

“We need to give all young people the tools to make informed decisions and to have healthy relationships, which they are ready for and want. This requires legislative change to make SRE compulsory in every school.”

The campaign is also backed by Plan International UK, The Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau.

Last week’s amendment was shot down on a bill committee where Tories held 10 of the 15 votes, with all 10 of the Conservative MPs on the committee voting to block the SRE amendment, while all five Labour MPs supported it. No other party was represented on the bill committee.

The Conservative MP for North Dorset, Simon Hoare, said the amendment did not afford enough protections for faith schools who oppose homosexuality.

He said: “Some form of protection is needed for those who run faith schools, all faiths, to make the position absolutely clear. I have little or no doubt that I will receive emails from constituents who happen to read my remarks. They will say that this is all about promotion, and this or that religion thinks that homosexuality—or another element—is not right.

“To provide a legislative comfort blanket, for want of a better phrase, the new clause needs to include a clear statement that we are talking not about promotion, but about education, and where sex education is delivered in a faith school environment, those providing the education should not feel inhibited about answering questions such as “What is the thinking of our faith on this particular aspect of sexuality?”

Junior Education Minister Edward Timpson agreed with his concerns, saying: “We must attempt to allow everybody with a view a chance to make their case. It is a sensitive issue, as everyone is aware, but we want to ensure that we bring as many people with us as possible.”

Mr Timpson insisted at the time that the government would be bringing forward its own plans on sex and relationship education, before himself voting to block the amendment, claiming “there are lots of repercussions that need to be thought through”.

More: Equality, Gay, LGBT, Maria Miller, Sex, sex education, Sexuality, SRE

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