London: Schoolchildren in England will be taught about safe and healthy relationships from the age of four as part of broader compulsory sex education, the government said today.
Children will be taught about sex at an "appropriate age" but parents will still have the right to withdraw their children from these classes. Until now, sex education has been compulsory only in government council-run schools and not for privately-run schools and academies.
The latest guidance on age-appropriate lessons has a particular emphasis on what constitutes healthy relationships, as well as the dangers of sexting, online pornography and sexual harassment. "The statutory guidance for SRE [Sex and Relationships Education] was introduced in 2000 and is becoming increasingly
outdated. It fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyberbullying, 'sexting' and staying safe online," said UK education secretary Justine Greening.
All children from the age of four will be taught about safe and healthy relationships, Greening said. "Parents will continue to have a right to withdraw their children from sex education. Schools will have flexibility over how they deliver these subjects, so they can develop an integrated approach that is sensitive to the needs of the local community; and, as now, faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith," she said.
The announcement follows a widespread campaign by charities, MPs and local authorities, calling for SRE to be made a statutory for all schools. The UK government is to table an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill that will make "age appropriate" SRE part of the national curriculum in primary and secondary schools.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has lent her backing to the new changes.
"There is a threat online and that threat we would all recognise has grown. That does mean that now is the right time to look at how we can ensure children have the access they need to the teaching in those subjects," a No 10 Downing Street spokesperson said.