Parents will lose the right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons when they turn 15, the Children’s Secretary announced yesterday.
Should 15-year-olds be forced to have sex education?
Listen to The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge debate the issue on BBC News
Faith schools will be forced to teach pupils about contraception and homosexuality despite their beliefs, under new Government plans.
Until now parents have retained the right to take their children out of sex education classes up to the age of 19 but the Government aims to reduce this to age 15.
Children’s Secretary Ed Balls said he wants all children to have at least one year of sex education, adding that he believes the change will help tackle teenage pregnancy.
Faith schools will not be able to opt out of teaching any aspect of the new programme, but Mr Balls said they may teach the topics according to the “tenets of their faith”.
But Daily Telegraph columnist Gerald Warner said that this is “simply a cynical method of enforcing anti-Christian values on faith schools”.
Campaigners say sex education in the last year of secondary school is often the most explicit, with pupils taught about how to use a condom and how to access contraception and abortion.
Religious leaders said parents would “vote with their feet”.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Balls said: “You can teach the promotion of marriage, you can teach that you shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage, what you can’t do is deny young people information about contraception outside of marriage.”
“The same arises in homosexuality”, he added. “Some faiths have a view about what in religious terms is right and wrong – what they can’t do though is not teach the importance of tolerance”.
A spokesman for the Family Education Trust said Mr Balls was “imposing his own agenda” on parents.
Under the new plans compulsory Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) will start from the age of five and children will learn about civil partnerships and body parts from the age of seven.
Critics say the Government’s teenage pregnancy strategy, which includes handing out contraceptives and spreading sex education, has been a failure.
The Government’s recent public consultation on SRE found that nearly 80 per cent of respondents believed parents should retain the right to withdraw their children at any age.
The same report found that almost 70 per cent of respondents believed Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, which includes SRE, should not be made compulsory under the curriculum.
A similar percentage deemed the proposed programmes of study for secondary schools unacceptable, with some respondents arguing that it set too liberal a tone on sexual activity and same-sex relationships.
But the Government commissioned another poll in October in which 81 per cent of parents responding thought that every child should attend the new sex education lessons.
The same survey claimed that almost 70 per cent of the parents polled said they should lose the right to withdraw their children either at a certain age or altogether.
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “The Government was unhappy with the results of their consultation so they simply devised a new poll to get the answers they were looking for.”
An outspoken critic of the Government’s teenage pregnancy strategy, Professor David Paton, has labelled it “absolutely disastrous”.
He added that increasing young people’s access to contraception “can lead to an increase in risky sexual behaviour”.
Earlier this year a £6 million Government-backed project designed to curb teenage pregnancies saw conceptions more than double.
The project involved giving teenagers sex education and advice about contraception but at the end of the scheme there were more teenage pregnancies among the youngsters who had taken part than among a comparable group who hadn’t.