Council leaders warn of ‘sexual health time bomb’ in calls for compulsory sex education

Education Secretary Justine Greening is facing growing pressure to roll-out compulsory SRE
Education Secretary Justine Greening is facing growing pressure to roll-out compulsory SRE
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The lack of sex and relationship education in some secondary schools is a “ticking sexual health time bomb”, council leaders across the country will warn today, as they join calls for Government to make lessons obligatory in all state schools.

Members of the Local Government Association (LGA) have come together to criticise the current exemption for academies and free schools, arguing it poses a “major health protection issue” for young people later in life.

They suggest a failure to teach pupils about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) while in full-time education has contributed to high rates of infection among men and women in their early 20s.

They are therefore calling for sex and relationship education (SRE) to be made an “essential part of the curriculum” for all secondary school children – with any decision to opt out left to parents.

The intervention by the LGA follows a series of similar appeals by politicians and education experts, including Labour’s Shadow Women’s Secretary Sarah Champion and the Conservative chairman of the Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston.

Under current regulations, free schools and academies – which account for around 65 per cent of schools in England and Wales – do not have to follow national curriculum guidelines on SRE provision, despite being funded by the state.

The Government has so far refused to commit to changing these rules, but says it is committed to ensuring children have access to “high-quality” relationship education. However, the LGA points to the latest STD infection figures – which reveal 141,060 cases were diagnosed among 20-24-year-olds in 2015 alone – as evidence that the current system is in need of reform.

“The lack of compulsory SRE in academies and free schools is storing up problems for later on in life, creating a ticking sexual health time bomb,” said LGA spokesman Izzi Seccombe.

“We believe that making sex and relationship education compulsory in all secondary schools, not just council-maintained ones, could make a real difference in reversing this trend.

“The focus needs to be on arming [pupils] with the knowledge they need to tackle what lies ahead. Life as a teenager is complicated enough.”

Ms Champion welcomed the LGA’s call, but stressed that SRE must not be overlooked as a “vital” means of protecting children from abuse.

“It is welcome news that the Local Government Association has recognised the need for good inclusive relationships education, and the difference it can make on young people’s lives,” she said.

“But while it is important to listen to parents and to consult them about their wishes for the education of their children, statutory sex and relationships education is also a vital method of child protection, given that statistics show two thirds of child sexual abuse takes place within the family environment or the close circle around it.”