Sex and relationships education in the UK is changing

March 2, 2017 Published by


Following months of campaigning from MP’s and charity groups, this week has seen the government announce a radical overhaul of sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools in England.

Many have welcomed the plan as a vastly needed change to an outdated system, while others are concerned about teaching children as young as four about SRE.


Why is sex and relationship education changing?

The current guidance, introduced seventeen years ago, makes no mention of modern issues, such as sexting and online grooming, meaning that many children leaving school are unequipped to deal with adult relationships.

It has even been termed a “sexual health time bomb” by the the Local Government Association , which has been campaigning for compulsory sex education in all schools.

Chairman of the association Izzi Seccombe says,

“We believe that making SRE compulsory in all secondary schools, not just council-maintained ones, could make a real difference in reversing this trend, by preparing pupils for adulthood and enabling them to better take care of themselves and future partners.”

Only council-run secondary schools have been required to teach SRE, but even then it has been poor quality, with 75 per cent of young people rating their current provision as very bad, bad or okay .


Seven in ten young people aged 16-24 have said they didn’t know enough when they felt ready to have their first sexual experience.


What parents need to know about the new SRE guidance

  • The new guidance is currently expected to come into effect from September 2019
  • Parents will have the right to withdraw their child from SRE
  • It will make sex and relationship education compulsory in all schools, including academies and free schools
  • Faith schools will be allowed to teach SRE in accordance with the tenets of their faith
  • SRE will also be taught in primary schools from the age of four, where the focus is expected to be on building healthy relationships, staying safe online, and protecting against grooming
  • In secondary schools, young people are likely to be taught about healthy relationships, what consent means in sexual relationships, how to protect themselves from sexting and online exploitation, the dangers of online pornography and sexual harassment
  • It is unknown whether the lessons will cover different sexualities, but seven out of ten parents and 97 per cent of young people would like this to be included in SRE lessons

(Retrieved from


Should schools or parents be responsible for teaching SRE?


Critics of the new SRE guidance have suggested that “this proposal is sending a huge message to parents that they are unfit to teach their own children about sex.” (Safe at School Campaign, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children).

Meanwhile, supporters are praising the decision to teach young people about “issues such as consent, abuse and what a healthy relationship looks like from a young age, in a safe environment and with trained professionals” (HIV and sexual health charity, The Terrence Higgins Trust).

Children in classroom listening to teacherA report by the Sex Education Forum (SEF 2015) has shown the benefits of SRE lessons at school; young people who had learned about sex and relationships in this way were less likely to have had sexual intercourse before age 16, unsafe sex in the past year, or to have ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection.

Girls were also less likely to have had an abortion or experienced sex against their will.

Although half of the young people surveyed by the SEF said they would prefer to get information about sex and relationships from school, 4 in 10 girls and a quarter of boys would also like to get information from their parents.

Compulsory Sex and Relationships Education in all schools is a positive step forward in giving children across the country access to vital information and support, but we believe that parents also have a key role to play.

“It’s still one of the areas of life that causes such confusion and anxiety. Talking about it from an early age is key so it’s seen as a natural part of life and issues such as grooming or abuse are less able to be carried out, because there’s less stigma and secrecy around sex.”

– says Dr Amanda Gummer.

Parents explain the birds and the bees

(Source: Parents Explain the Birds & the Bees by WatchCut Video)

Sex can be an awkward topic for many parents, but the more open you are with your child about it, the more likely they are to feel comfortable discussing their questions and concerns with you.

However difficult this may be, the alternative is that your child may learn about sex and relationships in the playground from their peers, where you will have no control over what they hear or see.


Photo credits

Teaching Assistant Orientation (TAO) 2012 by vandycft licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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