Sex education to be made compulsory in all schools - expert comment

3 March 2017

The government has announced that sex and relationships education is to be made compulsory in all schools in England.

Education Secretary Justine Greening has confirmed that all children from the age of four will be taught about safe and healthy relationships. At an appropriate age, children will also be taught about sex but parents will still have the right to withdraw their children from these classes.

What constitutes healthy relationships, the dangers of sexting, online pornography and sexual harassment will be the focus of age-appropriate lessons.

Dr Cicely Marston, Associate Professor in Social Science at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and an expert on sexual and reproductive health in young people, gives her opinion on the announcement:

"The news that sex and relationships education will be made compulsory is very welcome. It will be crucial that the exact content is not watered down unduly, and that experts on the subject are involved in designing the curriculum so that children receive the best possible comprehensive sexuality education.

There is already scaremongering about the content, with some suggesting that school sex education means that parents are seen as unfit to teach their children about the topic. Yet parents themselves want schools to help provide this education. This is an excellent, and long overdue, opportunity for parents, schools and young people to work together to improve young people's lives."

Dr Marston's research has included co-authoring a 2016 study that found a need for sex education programmes to focus on gender dynamics. She also led a 2014 study that revealed greater openness is needed to challenge harmful attitudes and expectations about anal sex between men and women.

Dr Marston also co-authored a report commissioned by the government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport Commercial, which found pornography distributors could do more to stop UK children seeing explicit sexual images through the internet and mobile devices.