Page last updated at 18:15 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 19:15 UK

Compulsory sex education plan

Lessons in life skills will become statutory for all pupils

Primary pupils must be taught about sex education and healthy living, as well-being lessons become compulsory in both primary and secondary schools.

A report from Sir Alasdair Macdonald has examined how personal, social and health education (PSHE) should become part of the curriculum in England.

Schools will still decide the context of such lessons, allowing faith schools to maintain their own ethos.

The subject is set to become part of the compulsory curriculum from 2011.

'21st Century children'

It will mean that life skills lessons - on issues such as sex education, healthy eating and handling money - will be on a statutory footing alongside traditional academic subjects.

"It is clear that if children are going to get a well-rounded education which prepares them for life in the 21st Century, PSHE has a key role to play," said Schools Secretary Ed Balls.

"Most schools already follow the non-statutory curriculum, but current provision can be patchy. Compulsory PSHE will mean consistency and quality, so all children can benefit.

"Parents bring up children not government. Schools, however, can play a vital role in teaching children essential skills for learning and life," said Mr Balls.

The schools secretary announced last year that PHSE lessons would be given statutory status - making compulsory what many schools already were teaching.

As part of this he asked the head teacher of Morpeth school in east London, Sir Alasdair Macdonald, to examine how this could be put into practice for young people aged from five to 16 years old.

At present, it is only compulsory to teach the biological facts of reproduction in secondary school science lessons, while PSHE classes, at any age, are optional.

Parents may withdraw their children from sex education lessons, and Sir Alasdair recommends that this entitlement should continue.

From the age of seven, pupils will learn about puberty and five year olds will be taught about parts of the body, relationships and the effects of drugs.

Secondary school pupils will learn about contraception, HIV and Aids, pregnancy and different kinds of relationships.

A review of the primary curriculum by Sir Jim Rose, due to be published later this week, will also consider how PSHE should best be delivered to younger children.

'Moral framework'

Schools Minister Jim Knight said this was not about five and six year olds being taught about sex, but "improving the moral framework in schools around which we talk about sex later in a child's education".

It will still be up to schools to decide what exactly to teach, within the programme of study.

There will also be lessons about personal finance, internet safety and avoiding pressure to join gangs.

Some teachers' unions have said they are concerned at the additional workload.

The Association of School and College Leaders said it disagreed that PSHE should become compulsory, but called Sir Alasdair's recommendations "sensible".

General secretary, Dr John Dunford, said: The existing programmes of study in PSHE are, as the report states, fit for purpose and it is difficult to see why the government wants to turn this into a statutory requirement."

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said some schools were still struggling to deliver Citizenship, which had been "bolted on" to the curriculum.

Both representatives of Church of England and Catholic schools welcomed the right of schools to maintain their own values in teaching the subject.

The Catholic Education Service said such lessons should be taught "in line with the wishes of parents and the ethos of the school" - including teaching in "age-appropriate ways".

Marc Thompson of the Terrence Higgins Trust said "Putting sex and relationships education on the national curriculum is one of the most sensible steps we can take towards improving England's sexual health."

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