England: school sex education to be compulsory at 15

Ed Balls MP, Minister for Children. Schools  and Families

Ed Balls MP, Minister for Children. Schools and Families

The right of parents  to take their children out of sex education classes in England is being ended for 15-year-olds. Under current rules, parents have the right to withdraw their child from sex education classes up until the age of 19.

The change means all pupils, including those in faith schools,  will have to receive at least one year of sex and relationship education before their 16th birthday once it becomes compulsory in 2011. The course will include  areas such as same sex relationships and contraception.

The ruling states that governing bodies will still be able to ensure classes reflect the religious ethos of the school. The opt-out clause will still be available for children under 15.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said that only a "very small minority" (0.04%) of parents chose to take their children out of sex education classes.

The Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CESEW) issued the following  response to the new ruling:

"The CESEW believes that Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) is vital in the education of young people. It enables factual information from reliable sources to be communicated and misinformation from peers or street culture or exploitation to be avoided. The CESEW also recognises that Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) is rightly a sensitive issue. We continue to wholeheartedly support the belief that parents are the first educators of their children, as well as recognising the significant roles and responsibilities of governing bodies on these issues.

"Whilst disappointed that legal encumbrances mean that a blanket right of withdrawal can no longer apply, we are pleased that the Government has recognised that the right of withdrawal in formative years is most critical and is therefore providing for the ability of parents to opt-out of SRE up to the age of 15.

"CESEW will continue to firmly uphold the position that parental rights remain vital, particularly but not exclusively, in those most formative and critical years up until the age of 15.

"As age and growing independence brings young people ever closer to pressures, advertising and coercion to behaviour which can undermine the healthy life of young people, we are comforted in the knowledge that our schools and colleges will do an exceptional job in providing Sex and Relationships Education, set within the teachings of the Catholic Church."

There was a rather stronger response from SPUC Pro-Life.

Paul Tully,  SPUC general secretary said: "We condemn this exploitation of the state-controlled school system by the government to deliver its anti-life policies to children, by-passing parental involvement.

"The government  is removing the right of parents to protect their children from the explicit promotion of abortion and sexual health interventions in the latter stages. This will be exploited to pressure more schools to deliver government-style sexual health interventions. In recent years, these have been characterised by obscene and lurid presentations. These are the classroom equivalent of 'advertorials', promoting sex and birth-control products. They send the message to children: 'do whatever you like - just be sure to avoid or abort any pregnancy'.
"In today's statement, Mr Balls pays lip-service to the ethos of religious schools, but does not give them an opt-out from its SRE agenda. He demands that school governors should deliver the 'core entitlement' of the government's agenda, putting the onus on governors to find ways of reconciling this with their school's ethos.
"Mr Balls is bullying governors to help him enforce policies which are against the ethos of their schools, against the moral and religious  values of their institutions, against the welfare of their pupils, and against the rights of parents",  concluded Mr Tully.

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