Labour calls for lessons on relationships in national curriculum

Amendment to children and families bill would add teaching of issues such as equality, abuse and same-sex relationships

Labour has tabled an amendment to the children and families bill which could make issues such as equality, abuse and same-sex relationships a compulsory part of the curriculum.

The amendment from three shadow Home Office ministers would add the teaching of issues such as consent to the curriculum covering biology. The amendment, due to be voted on next Tuesday, is unlikely to receive support from the government as the education secretary, Michael Gove, has made it clear that he believes school lessons are better spent focusing on academic subjects.

In a speech to the education select committee in April he suggested that teaching other subjects was a better guard against what he called "risky behaviour". "If you look at the way in which we can encourage students not to indulge in risky behaviour, one of the best ways we can do that is by educating them so well in a particular range of subjects that they have hope in the future.

"There is a direct correlation between how well students are doing overall academically and their propensity to fall into risky behaviour."

The Department for Education (DfE) has indicated that teachers can teach "relationships" if they wish. Groups including Women's Aid, the Family Planning Association and the National Union of Students are among a dozen groups supporting the amendment. Maggie Atkinson, children's commissioner, welcomed the campaign after a report last month which showed that children's access to pornography led to "harmful attitudes and behaviours". The report recommended that the Department for Education "should ensure that all schools understand the importance of, and deliver, effective relationship and sex education which must include safe use of the internet".

The DfE is considering including gardening and personal finance as part of the personal social health and economic (PSHE) education curriculum.

The shadow home affairs minister, Stella Creasy, said: "When we're teaching children about compost and compound interest but not consent, something has to change. Sexual harassment, violence and abuse affects millions of young people in Britain – that's why we have to teach them not only about the biology of sex but to respect each other and have healthy relationships. This coalition shows just how many parents, domestic violence and sexual health charities agree as well as young people themselves. Hoping schools will do this isn't good enough – it's time to put consent on the curriculum."

Parliament debated the merits of making sex and relationships education compulsory earlier this year as the Jimmy Savile and Rochdale child abuse scandals brought the issue of sexual abuse to the top of the national agenda.

Women's Aid ambassador and singer Jahmene Douglas said: "Following the debate in parliament in February this bill presents the government with a great opportunity to ensure that all children have access to the good quality sex and relationship education they need and are asking for."

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, which has received 30,000 reports of sexual harassment since launching a little more than a year ago, said: "The huge number of stories the Everyday Sexism Project has received from children and teenagers shows beyond doubt that there is an urgent need for far greater information and support to be provided in schools. Many of the young people who contact us are confused and scared about sex they have seen in videos shared online or on mobile phones. Others have reported the far end of the playground being called 'the rape corner' and young people saying 'rape is a compliment really' in classroom discussions. It is time to ensure this most vital of topics is properly covered by the national curriculum."

Even Ofsted recently found that PSHE is not good enough in a "substantial proportion of schools" and that this is leaving young people vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.


Jane Martinson

The GuardianTramp

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