Sex and relationship education (SRE) is only compulsory in maintained schools, and parents have the right to withdraw their children from aspects of the subject that aren’t covered in the science curriculum.
The Key surveyed its members in October 2014 to learn more about their views on safeguarding in their schools. 41% of school leaders who responded believe SRE should start in Key Stage 1 and 50% believe it should start in Key Stage 2.
In a recent staff seminar at The Key we debated whether SRE should be compulsory in all schools, with no right to opt out. Here I have summarised some of the arguments that were put forward on each side.
Parents may prefer SRE to be introduced by professionals in an educational context, as some feel unprepared or embarrassed to talk to their own children about this topic.
Parents don’t have a right to remove their child from science because they don’t believe in dinosaurs, for example, so why should SRE be any different?
Some parents may be naive about when their child is “ready” to learn about SRE, or unaware their child is already sexually active.
Teaching SRE is a public health issue; multiple studies have shown that effective sex education reduces rates of sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancies.
Effective sex education can help young people withstand pressures to have sex, and actually reduce sexual activity.
Nothing about SRE prevents parents from teaching their children about their own beliefs and expectations about sex. However, young people have a right to learn the facts, in order to make informed choices.
Making SRE compulsory is the only way to ensure that all schools, including faith schools, cover it. We cannot assume that all parents will talk to their children about sex and relationships.
Introducing SRE in an age-appropriate way can help to protect young people from abuse by teaching them about consent, healthy relationships and physical boundaries.
It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children about sex and relationships, and they must decide when and how this happens.
Parents have the right to withdraw their children from RE, so why not SRE? For example, where they feel what is taught may contradict their moral or religious beliefs.
Children mature at different rates and parents are best placed to know when their child is “ready” to learn about sex.
The research surrounding SRE is far from conclusive and is often funded by groups with ideological biases.