A shake-up of sex education in schools is on the cards for the first time in almost two decades.
Education Secretary Justine Greening is drafting a relationships and sex education (RSE) curriculum for young people growing up in a world that includes sexting and online pornography.
Its aim will be to make young people safe, well-adjusted and more aware of LGBT relationships.
Greening said: “It is unacceptable that relationships and sex education (RSE) guidance has not been updated for almost 20 years, especially given the online risks, such as sexting and cyber bullying, our children and young people face. Young people must have an education that teaches them the importance of healthy and stable relationships.
“This call for evidence is about giving teachers, parents and especially young people a chance to help shape that new approach and I’d urge them to take part.”
Greening today opens an eight-week consultation period, and wants the views of parents, teachers and pupils to help shape a new relationships and sex education (RSE) on what is age-appropriate.
But the National Education Union, which last week sounded the alarm on girls regularly facing sexual harassment at school, has warned new guidance would have little impact if the government did not invest more in teaching.
The Government says 91% of parents think children need lessons about the risks of strangers online and sexting, while 74% of 11-to-15-year-olds believe children would be safer if they had better sex education.
The current guidance, introduced in 2000, is being updated after MPs backed making relationships education compulsory in primary schools and relationships and sex education compulsory in secondary schools.
The current guidance also contains no mention of LGBT people.
As it stands, only pupils at council-run secondary schools are guaranteed RSE.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “Age-appropriate lessons on relationships and sex education (RSE), combined with personal social and health education (PSHE) in all schools in England will help keep children safe and healthy.
“Both children and parents have told Barnardo’s that these classes would help children better understand healthy relationships and the dangers in the real world and online.
“When we polled children they overwhelmingly told us that RSE lessons would be important for them to understand the dangers of being online so they can stay safe, and that they wanted to know the risks of sharing images of themselves with a stranger online.
“It’s important that the government listens to the voices of young people, parents and experts on what they want to see included in these lessons and who is best placed to teach them to equip children for modern life and help prevent them being groomed or sexually exploited.”
Ian Green, Chief Executive, Terrence Higgins Trust, said it was vital to include young people in the consultation.
He said: “In order to help tackle high rates of sexually transmitted infections among young people and ensure that all young people have the information they need to make informed decisions about relationships, we must see a strong emphasis on neglected topics such as sexual health and LGBT inclusion in this guidance.
“It’s vital that young people are at the heart of this initial consultation to ensure this is done right.”
Ruth Hunt, chief executive of the LGBT campaigning charity Stonewall, said: “Schools that teach LGBT-inclusive RSE are in the minority, leaving many LGBT young people without the information they need to make safe, informed decisions. Just 13 per cent of LGBT young people have learnt about healthy same-sex relationships.
“In schools where pupils receive an inclusive education, LGBT pupils are less likely to experience bullying. They are also more likely to report feeling safe, welcome and happy at school.”
Ian Bauckham, who was awarded the CBE in 2017 for services to education and is a head teacher in Kent, will lead the consultation.