31 January 2014

A Labour amendment to the Children and Families Bill that would have made age-appropriate sex and relationship education (SRE) in state-funded schools compulsory for all ages has been rejected by the House of Lords by a vote of 209 to 142.

Had the amendment gone through, SRE covering sexual relationships, same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and consent would have been a foundation curriculum subject, and compulsory in primary schools and all academies in addition to the current requirements in secondary schools.

Labour’s education spokesperson, Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, said: “Universal access to the internet, social media, smartphones and music videos is sexualising children with profound and often damaging consequences. As policymakers we are behind the curve on this issue.”

There was also support from the Bishop of Leicester, former chair of the Children’s Society, arguing that children need help to “find their way through a complex labyrinthine world” of friendships, intimacy and relationships.

However, those in disagreement believe that legislation is not always the answer and that the problem is part of the wider Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education agenda.

Education Minister Lord Nash expressed concern that making sex education part of the curriculum would remove control from individual schools and said that this was “not necessarily the solution to life’s ills”.

Charities, however, are disappointed. The Chief Executive of the sexual health charity Brook, Simon Blake, said they would not be deterred by the current vote against statutory SRE and would still hope for it to be made compulsory in the long term.

The Department for Education will soon email updated advice produced by the PSHE Association, Brook and the Sex Education Forum to all schools for use with existing teaching materials.