Schools minister Jim Knight has implied as long as children remember their sex education lessons he doesn’t mind if they forget what they learn in maths and history.
Mr Knight was speaking at a Westminster Hall debate on new plans for compulsory sex and relationships education (SRE) for children as young as five.
Defending the Government’s plans, Mr Knight said: “If we get it right, the lessons learned at school will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
He said that although geometry “and the dates of the English civil war may fade from memory, the knowledge of how to practise safe sex will not.”
However, other MPs said that schools are already failing to teach pupils in other areas, and should not be expected to cover more SRE as well.
Philip Davies, the MP who secured the debate, said: “Surely, the Government should concentrate on ensuring that people can read and write when they leave school, rather than taking every opportunity to fill their heads with sex education, which is clearly making no difference whatever.”
Mr Davies also attacked Mr Knight’s claim that there is “strong international evidence” for the success of “comprehensive SRE” in lowering teenage pregnancy.
Ministers have often linked low teenage pregnancy levels in the Netherlands with its more explicit approach to SRE.
But Mr Davies accused the Government of “cherry-picking” evidence from other countries to support its argument.
He pointed out that like the Netherlands, Italy also has low rates of teenage pregnancy, and provides “almost no sex education in its schools”.
He said that what both countries shared was not sex education but tighter family structures, low divorce rates, and a far smaller proportion of lone parent families.
Mr Davies told MPs: “Many people feel that the more sex education we have had, the more teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies we have had.
“The answer to that problem is not even more sex education, but less.
“We have been trying this for 20 or 30 years. We might think that somebody would have said, at some point, ‘Hold on a minute, this is not working.'”