The UK education secretary, Justine Greening, announced last week that sex-and-relationships education will become compulsory in all schools. While it was already compulsory for schools run by local authorities, an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill will make it compulsory for all schools in England, including independent and faith schools. The lessons will begin for children as young as four.
Greening said younger students will learn about healthy relationships, while secondary-school pupils will be given ‘age-appropriate’ lessons about sex and relationships. She said current guidelines ‘fail to address risks to children which have grown in prevalence in recent years, including online pornography, sexting and staying safe online’.
The Department for Education’s (DfE) website made it clear that the lessons would take the remit of sex education way beyond the biological facts of sex. Instead, they would focus on ‘the central importance of healthy relationships’. It also indicated that the DfE would be developing course materials that focused on ‘mental wellbeing, consent, resilience and age-appropriate relationships’.
The proposals have been criticised – largely for ‘not going far enough’. Many cheered the fact that relationships education would be made a part of the curriculum, but critics are concerned that parents have retained an ‘opt-out’, allowing them to remove their children from the classes. They are also concerned that faith schools have been given too much leeway to teach children about relationships ‘in accordance with the tenets of their faith’.
But the more fundamental question has been lost. That is, who the hell is Justine Greening to tell young people what amounts to a healthy relationship? Does she or anyone at the DfE have the recipe for relationship bliss? I doubt it. Relationships are messy and complicated. Are we really suggesting we can teach in a classroom what makes a good relationship?