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Sexuality Education in UK Schools: Compulsory through Statutory Safeguard

On October 23, UK Minister of Schools, Jim Knight, announced that sexuality education for ages 5–16 would become compulsory in all schools in the United Kingdom, citing that “after all, what [is] education’s for – to develop our critical faculties, to help us make the right choices – not just in our studies, but in life.”[1] This announcement came on the heels of a nine month study about sexuality education in schools which found that there was inconsistency in the content and delivery of Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in UK schools. The curriculum is to follow medically accurate and age-appropriate guidelines.
This decision to make SRE a statutory part of the curriculum, will affect both public and private schools.  The new Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum is scheduled to be available by 2010. While all religiously affiliated schools will be obligated to teach the curriculum, the Department of Children School and Families (DCSF) is committed to supporting and allowing “schools of a religious character to develop supplementary resources to support SRE delivery within a faith context.”[2] The DCSF is also committed to ensuring that parental rights are upheld and that parents and youth are involved in key decision-making.[3]
Advocates welcomed this decision and the support it will bring to ensuring thorough and accurate information for young people. Anna Martinez, Coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, lamented how “in the past, we have let young people down with the poor provision of sex and relationship education [SRE] and they’ve gone into the world ill-equipped to make responsible choices about their lives” and applauded this recent decision as “a step in the right direction towards ensuring all children and young people get the best possible SRE.” [4] This sentiment was further supported by Graham Russell, chief executive of Methodist Schools, who added that "it is necessary to prepare young people to confront the problems they will encounter in the modern world: ignorance will provide no defence at all." 
Not everyone was pleased with this outcome however, including some lawmakers. Geraldine Smith, a  Labour Minister of Parliament, claimed that "to start sex education at primary school is to rob young children of their innocence… children seem to grow up faster these days but to start formally teaching them about sex education would be quite wrong and would encourage under-age sex. Being exposed to this sort of thing at such an age would put an awful lot of pressure on very young children." [5]
"We welcome and applaud this development in the UK Schools,” commented William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, “What we see happening there echoes the paradigm shift in sexuality education that is taking shape in numerous countries. Today we are moving toward implementing legal safeguards to ensure that young people have access to age-appropriate, medically accurate and evidence-based information from which to make healthy choices to lead healthy lives.”

[1] Jim Knight, “Sex Education for All,” Sex Education Forum, Central Hall Westminster, 23 October 2008,

[2] Polly Curtis, “Sex Education Made Compulsory in All Schools,” The Guardian, 23 October 2008,
“Government Response to the Report by the Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) Review Steering Group,”  Department for Children Schools and Families, 2008,

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Its Time for Action,” Sex Education Forum, 23 October 2008,

[5] Graeme Paton, “Children Age 5 to Get Sex Education,” The Telegraph, 23 October 2008,