MPs have stated that age-appropriate personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, which includes sex and relationships education (SRE) should be introduced as compulsory subjects in all state primary and secondary schools.
As the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles shows, a growing number of young people get information from school about sex and relationships.
The PSHE lessons would aim to keep children and young people informed about healthy living and how to deal with potential safeguarding issues such as sexting, cyberbullying, child sexual exploitation, non-consensual sex and abuse.
A report by the education select committee calls on the Department for Education to instate mandatory PSHE education into the school timetable, addressing a major omission from the government’s 2013 overhaul of the national curriculum.
The MPs’ intervention is the latest attempt to highlight the need to boost the quality and quantity of PSHE and sex education in schools. Last January, an amendment to the Children and Families Bill that would have made SRE compulsory in all schools failed to receive sufficient backing.
The committee's report says giving schools the option to provide PSHE education means some young people are missing out on SRE despite the fact the majority of parents, teachers and young people are in favour of it.
Graham Stuart, education committee chair, said: “It is important that school leaders and governors take PSHE seriously and improve their provision by investing in training for teachers and putting PSHE lessons on the school timetable.”
The report also recommends schools work closely with parents over deciding the content covered in PSHE lessons, hold regular consultations with them and give parents the right to withdraw children from elements of SRE.
Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator at the Sex Education Forum, said: “Support for statutory SRE has never been clearer – nine out of 10 students back legislative change, and more than three-quarters of parents want primary schools to teach about the difference between safe and unwanted touch, and how to speak up if someone treats them inappropriately.