A leading Conservative MP has attacked as “unacceptable” the government’s failure to make sex education in schools compulsory, accusing ministers of prioritising Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).
Maria Miller MP has launched a campaign to try to force the government to introduce legislation which would see every school being made to offer sex and relationship education (SRE) to its pupils. As part of that campaign, Miller has called a debate in the House of Commons on Monday to further promote the issue.
“It would not be acceptable if ministers were distracted by Brexit,” she told The Guardian. “Every child needs the opportunity to have a good teenage life. We need to act now to make sure they get the proper education they need.
“What I’m trying to do is build some momentum. We’ve been hearing for quite a while that the government is going to do something, but things are not progressing fast enough. I feel there’s no difference in policy position between me and the government, but is it a priority?”
Schools are presently required to teach the biological aspects of sex, but are under no requirements to teach children about the social aspects of sex and relationships, something campaigners have been lobbying hard over the past year to change.
A recent Barnardo’s survey of 11 to 15-year-olds found that seven in ten thought the government should make sex and relationship education compulsory, a statistic Miller welcomed:
“I think there’s a growing narrative that says we can’t ignore what children are asking for. For me this is hugely important,” Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, said. “I’ve got three children [two teenagers and a 21-year-old]. You know when you are living through it how important this is.”
Campaigners are trying to insert compulsory sex education into the Children and Social Work Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, not least as the education Secretary Justine Greening has repeatedly indicated that she is amenable to making sex education compulsory.
Two weeks ago Labour MP Stella Creasy put forward an amendment to that Bill which would make lessons on “sex and relationships education, same-sex relationships, sexual consent, sexual violence and domestic violence” mandatory in all UK schools.
David Hersh, chairman of a girls’ Jewish faith school in north-west London, wrote to tell MPs that the school was “extremely troubled” by the amendment.
“Although it might be appropriate in certain schools where problems might arise on a regular basis,” he said, “the Jewish Orthodox schools do not suffer from these issues, and bringing it to the fore, would in fact aggravate and increase the problems you are seeking to limit.”
Bill committee member Simon Hoare, the Conservative member for North Dorset, told his colleagues during the debate that faith schools needed “Some form of protection … to make the position absolutely clear”.
However, he added that he was in “support” of the thrust of the amendment in general, as long as faith schools were allowed to include questions such as “What is the thinking of our faith on this particular aspect of sexuality?” within their teaching.
Junior Education Minister Edward Timpson said the government would be bringing forward its own plans to reform sex education in schools “in a timely and considered manner”.