A parliamentary committee has voted against legislation that would make sex and relationships education (SRE) compulsory in schools- despite the fact three-quarters of young people believe this would make them safer, according to Barnardo’s.
A 2016 parliamentary report found that almost a third of 16-18 year old girls had experienced unwanted touching at school, while NSPPC research shows 27% of 13-17 year old girls have experienced sexual violence in their relationships.
Currently, only state-school students receive compulsory lessons on the biological aspects of sex, while no schools are obliged to teach pupils about the social and emotional aspects of relationships.
Campaigners hope changes will be passed when the bill reaches report stage in February.
Calls for new sex and relationships policy has been growing in recent months. In November, chairs of five parliamentary committees sent a strongly-worded letter to education secretary Justine Greening over the issue.
But Labour MP Stella Creasy’s call to a public bill committee to amend the Children and Social Work Bill to make “age-appropriate, inclusive” sex and relationship education (SRE) compulsory in all schools was voted down on Tuesday.
Speaking in the committee meeting, Creasy said: “When we think about the scandals that have been uncovered in the last couple of years, about how people used to talk and interact with young people, or about the treatment of young girls in our society, we can see that safeguarding children is not a question of the modern world but a question of a better world.”
Campaigners agree that the proposed amendment to the bill is “vital” in keeping young people safe.
“Compulsory, age-appropriate sex and relationship education for all children will mean they grow up understanding consent and healthy relationships and respecting themselves and each other,” Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan wrote in a blog on the Huffington Post UK on Tuesday.
“It would also mean they will be taught about the risks online, including sharing personal details and naked images and how to spot the signs of grooming, providing them with the skills and resilience they need to keep themselves safe from sexual violence, sexual bullying and harmful sexual content online, including pornography.”
The government’s latest guidelines on SRE were released in 2000 - before the prevalence of smartphones and the popularity of Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
Research from Barnardo’s found that 70% of 11-15 year olds in England believe all children should have school lessons on sex and relationships, while 94% said they wanted to know the risks of sharing images of themselves with strangers online.
Conservative MP Maria Miller said the case for mandatory SRE lessons had “never been stronger”.
“It’s even more striking that children themselves are calling on the government to make sure they receive high quality SRE lessons so they can keep themselves safe.”
A Department for Education spokesperson told the Huffington Post UK: “High-quality education on sex and relationships is a vital part of preparing young people for success in adult life - helping them make informed choices, stay safe and learn to respect themselves and others.
“Education on sex and relationships is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools, and many academies and free schools teach it as part of the curriculum. We are actively considering what further steps we could take to improve the quality and availability of sex and relationships education.”
Correction: This article originally stated that the amendment was voted against by a Lords Committee, when it was actually a public bill committee. This mistake has now been rectified.