Mandatory Sex Ed in the UK Invites Both Relief and Worry

October 24, 2008 06:00 PM
by Christopher Coats
A government push to introduce lifestyle and relationship lessons to the curriculum of UK schools has raised the ire of social critics, but found support in some unusual places.

Mandatory Lessons

After nine months of review and consultation with education, social and religious specialists, the government announced that compulsory “relationship lessons” would be implemented for students from age 5 to 16.

Covering an array of subjects, not limited to, but including sexual education, the “age-appropriate” lessons will focus on all the necessary subjects to help children make a healthy and safe transition from adolescence to adulthood.

The program’s focus on relationships and their connection to sex appears to have earned the government praise.

The Methodist Church of Britain applauded the move for stressing “the importance of relationships and sexual health education into a framework that can be supported and managed.”

“We are not talking about teaching six and seven-year-olds the Kama Sutra,” Sandy Youngson, a Methodist Church representative who advised the government, told the Ekklesia news service. “The Methodist Church wants to support young people to develop as a whole.”

After finding that education of alcohol, sexual and drug issues was “patchy” in UK schools, the national government has ordered the implementation of lifestyle lessons, though the exact nature of the classes remains subject to review.

The Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) classes will also be malleable according to local needs and demands, and their implementation will be determined by a review board.

Inviting clergy members to offer their opinions on a “moral context” in which to provide the information, the government has hoped to avoid controversy.

“We are not suggesting that five and six-year-olds should be taught sex,” Schools Minister Jim Knight told the BBC. “What we are saying is we need to improve in particular the relationship education, improve the moral framework and moral understanding around which we then talk about sex later on in a child’s education.”

In the last 10 years, the United Kingdom has seen significant growth in the number of sexually transmitted diseases, making education increasingly important.

A review of UK schools found that sexual education was addressed mainly from a scientific angle, focusing on the biology and process rather than taking personal or emotional components into consideration.

However, the PSHE curriculum, still in planning stages, has still found some familiar criticism.

Reaction: Not free from worry

Echoing traditional opposition to the inclusion of sex education in British schools, The Christian Voice has suggested that the PSHE classes will “encourage fornication.”

Focusing on the sexual components of the program, The Daily Telegraph led the charge of criticism, stating that introducing young children to adult emotions and situations was misguided and dangerous.

“To introduce five- and six-year-olds into a world of adult emotions and relationships takes some of the magic away,” the newspaper wrote following the announced program.  “Children should be allowed to be children.”

Acknowledging the problem of youth pregnancies, which have seen a 10 percent increase in the last year, the paper suggests that schools focus on the difficulties of raising a child rather than sex, “about which most of them seem to know plenty.”

Conversely, The Times education editor, Alexandra Frean, suggests that the education system’s “patchy” record of sex education and parents’ unwillingness or discomfort with dealing with such issues has made it necessary for the national government to take the topic on directly.

“A recent survey of 20,000 teenagers by the UK Youth Parliament found that teenagers are being taught sex education so badly in schools that many have no idea how to avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy,” offered Frean.

Traditional sexual education, Frean argued, is not enough.

Related Topic: Scout Association; Barack Obama

The government move comes just days after the Scout Association, the UK version of the Boy and Girl Scouts, decided to begin a sex education program that will provide age-appropriate lessons to young scouts.

The decision comes after scout leaders requested guidance at a national meeting of the organization, marking a significant change from the group founder’s dated advice that young men should “wash your parts in cold water and cool them down” if they experience sexual urges.

A similar program, introduced in the Illinois State Legislature, came under fire earlier this year when John McCain launched an attack on Barack Obama for his support of what he described as sex education for kindergarteners.

Described in a political ad as a program that wanted children to learn about sex before they could read, the program was never enacted, though Obama did support the bill when it was introduced and defended it as age appropriate and helpful for educating children about the dangers of pedophiles.

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