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I’m lost for words and I can’t stop smiling

October 23rd, 2008

Dr Petra

Today a most amazing thing happened. The government agreed that sex and relationships education (SRE) should be made compulsory within the UK and delivered within a wider cultural context that moves beyond biology and includes feelings, emotions and life skills.

It’s something that we’ve known teens want and need for a long while, which is why organisations and individuals have been lobbying Education Minister Jim Knight and his team. Even so, I was still not sure exactly what the report would say today. By early morning those of us who work in sex education were texting each other saying ‘I think he’s going to make it statutory for 11 years and upwards’ and then when the report was released we discovered – to our amazement and joy – that SRE is statutory from age 5 upwards.

The recommendations are not going to be put into action until 2010 and in the interim period there will be time to consult on exactly what the statutory SRE curriculum should look like. The government has recommended that parents should not have the right to opt their child out of SRE classes, and it’s likely this will be upheld although between now and 2010 you can expect some parents and religious groups to argue against this.

You can read the Review of SRE (28 pages, pdf) here, followed by the government’s response to this report here.

There has been a good deal of positive response to the recommendations and a fair amount of anger from more right wing groups/parents. Unfortunately some areas of the media have been deliberately unhelpful in their coverage – implying young children will be taught about sex. One thing we do need to get clear and keep repeating is that young children will NOT be being taught anything explicit and this is not going to harm them psychologically or rob them of their innocence.

How the recommendations will be implemented, how teachers will be supported and how we can ensure good quality SRE is delivered is now to be worked out and I will keep you posted on all the news I hear on this topic.

Tomorrow I’ll be reporting in more detail about the review and response to it (it’s quite unusual to get both in one day so there’s a lot to get through). I’ve had a lot of teachers and parents email me already asking questions about the review and what it means for them and the children in their care. I’ll be answering these questions over the weekend – so if you have any questions you want to ask then drop me an email at and I’ll find out what I can for you.

At this time we need to give credit to the groups who have consistently applied pressure and supplied information during the course of this review. The Sex Education Forum, Family Planning Association, Terrence Higgins Trust, Youth Parliament, and Brook particularly deserve a mention.

It’s been a great day today, and one where the government for once listened to the evidence and worked from what the majority of the country wanted.

There’s a real chance here that we can turn things around and make life for our children and teens much better. The aim of these changes are to reduce teenage pregnancy and STIs, and we can add to this the chance to give young people the life skills to enable them to enjoy happy relationships in adulthood. And those are all very wonderful things to wish for our children.

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