Children in England will learn about periods, female genital mutilation and LGBT+ issues when a curriculum shake-up takes effect next year.
The Department for Education unveiled the new sexual health education guidelines after a public consultation. The recommendations given to schools had not been updated since 2000.
The new subjects will extend well beyond the current sex and relationships education on offer in schools – with children as young as four being taught about online safety, healthy relationships and mental health.
Primary school kids will also have lessons on periods and the biology of menstruation, while secondary school-aged kids will also learn about different kinds of abuse and their legal rights in the face of it, including female genital mutilation (FGM). An estimated 137,000 women and girls are affected by FGM in England and Wales each year.
Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “We know that FGM can have a catastrophic effect on the lives of those affected, causing life-long physical and psychological damage.
“Everyone must do all they can to protect women and girls from this extreme form of gendered violence.
“There’s a legislation aspect, and enforcement, but just as important is awareness and challenging assumptions – which is why we are making sure all pupils are given all the facts at secondary school.”
Pupils of all ages will be taught about sleep as a vital part of keeping healthy as well as the risks of sexting. The new curriculum guidance also places emphasis on lessons which are LGBT+ inclusive.
However schools will have the power to decide what materials they teach from and design their own plans to cover topics outlined in the new guidance.
The education secretary added: “Almost 20 years on from the last time guidance on sex education was updated, there is a lot to catch up on.
“Although sex education is only mandatory to teach at secondary, it must be grounded in a firm understanding and valuing of positive relationships, and respect for others, from primary age.
Pupils need to know how to be safe and healthy, and how to manage their academic, personal and social lives in a positive way
“In turn positive relationships are connected with good mental health, which itself is linked with physical wellbeing. So it is appropriate to make health education universal alongside relationships and sex education.”
The curriculum reforms were first proposed by former education secretary Justine Greening in 2017, however she added the caveat that parents could opt their children out of the lessons.
But according to the upcoming changes to sex education, parents will not necessary have this right. As a result, more than 100,000 people signed a petition demanding that parents be given a choice about when their children are taught about certain issues, to be debated by MPs in parliament.
Dr Katherine Sarah Godfrey-Faussett, creator of the petition, said: “We believe it is the parent’s fundamental right to teach their child RSE topics or to at least decide who teaches them and when and how they are taught. We want the right to opt our children out of RSE when it becomes mandatory in September 2020.
“We have grave concerns about the physical, psychological and spiritual implications of teaching children about certain sexual and relational concepts proposed in RSE and believe that they have no place within a mandatory school curriculum.
“We believe the above factors have not been given enough consideration and that many of the RSE resources being produced by lobby groups and external organisations will actually cause more harm than good, particularly when child development and psychological factors are considered.”
Prior to the debate held in parliament, MPs responded to the petition. A spokesperson said: “Pupils need to know how to be safe and healthy, and how to manage their academic, personal and social lives in a positive way.
“This is why we are making relationships education compulsory in all primary schools in England, relationships and sex education compulsory in all secondary schools, and health education compulsory in all state-funded schools.”
They also said schools should consult parents on new sex and relationships education policies, and will be required to take pupils’ respective religious beliefs into consideration.
Urgent action is needed to prevent even more people being pushed into homelessness. A secure home is the first step in addressing the cruel cycle of poverty to ensure people can fulfil their potential. Join us to keep people in their homes.