The government in its wisdom last week announced that sex and relationship education will be a compulsory part of the school curriculum. This is fantastic news for young people and Britain more widely.
The reviewed guidance and the addition of compulsion are welcome steps in their own right and will do lots to help combat unintended teenage pregnancies, the sexual health epidemic we are facing and the low esteem of particularly young women and gay men that means people feel they cannot say ‘no’.
Research about the amount of factual information young people receive about sexual health shows two positive correlations. First, that vulnerable young people become a decision maker in their sexual activity and, second, educated young people make better decisions overall.
I hope this announcement gets the credit it deserves, particularly from those who have recently been trying to restrict abortion in the House of Commons. I have never understood those people who want fewer abortions when they oppose the availability of sex education. Their hypocrisy is truly outstanding.
The backlash from the announcement of a policy like this could be dangerous for the government. We know there are too many organisations – including the Tory party as we saw on Thursday’s Question Time – who are prepared to make the issue emotive and sensational. Those who seek to scare parents and what might be called ‘values voters’.
We must be out in our communities, church halls and school play grounds explaining to worried parents how age relevant the proposals are. Explain – as Lib Dem MP Jo Swinton did so well on Thursday – concern for the protection of children making it paramount that children as young as five understand the anatomy and the basics of relationship education. Acknowledging that girls as young as eight and nine are starting their periods – something that shouldn’t come as a surprise – and desensitising boys and girls to the condoms and contraception, ensuring that the first time they touch a condom is not part of the stress when losing their virginity.
I think Jim Knight and his colleagues have shown extraordinary leadership – our movement should applaud this step and support its successful delivery. Labour governors all around the country can help make this happen and local councillors should support headteachers to drive the change locally. Britain cannot be broken if every child can grow up to make their own informed choices about their sexual lives free from intimidation and undue pressure.
Richard Angell is national chair of Young Labour