Sex education has been made compulsory in all schools in England, Education Secretary Justine Greening confirmed.
All children from the age of four will be taught about safe and healthy relationships and children in secondary schools will be given age-appropriate lessons about sex.
The move follows months of campaigning from MPs and charity groups who successfully argued that the current curriculum is years out of date and does not reflect the dangers faced by young people today.
Until now, schools that are not under local authority control have not been obligated to include sex and relationship education (SRE) within their teachings and those that do only include biology.
In practice, the vast majority do teach the subject – the government’s announcement will mean all schools across the system will be bound by the same obligation.
Age-appropriate lessons will have a particular emphasis on what constitutes healthy relationships, as well as the dangers of sexting, online pornography and sexual harassment.
In primary schools, the focus would be on building healthy relationships and staying safe, the Department for Education said. In secondary school, it would focus on sex as well as relationships.
The government will hold discussions with teachers, parents and safeguarding experts on what should be taught to children, and at what age, and there will be a public consultation later this year.
In a written statement, Ms. Greening said:
“The statutory guidance for SRE was introduced in 2000 and is becoming increasingly outdated.It fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyberbullying, sexting and staying safe online.”
Last year, British students were said to be suffering from a sexting epidemic. According to reports, tens of thousands of children as young as 12 years were discovered to be sharing sexual images online. That has led the government and child-protection groups to call for compulsory sex education classes in schools.
Amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill will also allow the Government to make regulations requiring PSHE to be taught in all schools in England in the future, ensuring all primary, secondary, maintained and academy schools are bound by law.
Parents will, however, continue to have the right to withdraw their children from sex education classes and schools are given flexibility over how they deliver the subjects.
Faith schools will also be able to continue to teach “in accordance with the tenets of their faith”, although it remains unclear how this will be monitored.
The move has been welcomed by education leaders and campaigners, including Refuge, who said the landmark decision could help reduce domestic violence for future generations.
However, YouGov poll from Barnardo’s children’s charity earlier this year found 74 percent of 11-15 year-olds said they would feel safer if they were taught about sex and relationships in school.
About 94 percent said they agreed it was important for them to understand the risks and dangers of being online in order to stay safe.