Sexual health classes to reflect modern age

Dr Kate Ardern, executive director of Public Health for the borough of Wigan
Dr Kate Ardern, executive director of Public Health for the borough of Wigan

Providing sexual and relationship education (SRE) up to date with the modern age is crucial for youngsters, a borough health chief has said.

Ministers have this week hinted SRE is to be made compulsory in all schools amid concerns the number of sex related crimes suffered by youngsters is on the increase.

And Wigan borough public health director Prof Kate Ardern agrees teenagers should be taught about “healthy relationships” in the age of the internet.

Repeatedly asked during a Commons adjournment debate this week on the topic if the Government will bring in legislation for SRE, Education Minister Caroline Dinenage said ministers are “looking at it”.

Ms Dinenage said it is important that children and young people “have access to effective, factually accurate, age appropriate, sex and relationship education”.

In Wigan, despite improvements in recent years, public health teams are still tackling high rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).

The calls for compulsory SRE come as the town hall is reforming its sexual health services.

A recent council report highlighted that the borough has one of the highest rates in the country for under 16s using the morning after pill.

Prof Ardern said: “In this modern age there are a whole host of different issues which affect relationships and these can have huge consequences on young people.

“This is one of the reasons why we are creating a 21st century sexual health service which takes into account both the benefits and problems that things like the internet can give.

“The focus of the service too is to actually address what healthy relationships should be like, taking in not just the importance of physical but also mental health.

“Giving young people the confidence to know how to look after themselves will play a huge part in protecting them from any potentially dangerous situations in the future.”

Conservative MP Maria Miller, the chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee who brought this week’s debate, said children are losing out because their schools across the country are failing to give them the teaching and advice they need.

She said: “We need children to be able to make informed choices, we need children to understand that sexting is illegal, that it could affect their own mental health, leave them open to extortion, and limit their future careers potentially as well.

“That pornography doesn’t reflect reality, that bullying behaviour online is just as unacceptable as bullying behaviour offline.”

Under the national curriculum SRE is compulsory from age 11 in maintained secondary schools, but parents can withdraw their children from parts of it.

Education minister Ms Dinenage added: “This is a subject the Government takes very seriously and we have welcomed the extremely helpful input from many members across the House.

“The Government is very committed to exploring all the options to improve delivery of sex and relationship education and personal, social and health education, and to ensuring we address both the quality of delivery and the accessibility - to support all children developing positive, healthy relationships and being able to thrive in modern Britain.”