Sex and Relationships Education
78. So far, this report has largely focused on various
issues to do with treatment of, and screening for, sexual health
problems. However, improving people's sexual health through prevention
rather than cure remains the ultimate challenge for all those
working in the area of sexual health, and this is never more the
case than with young people. In oral evidence
to us, Dr Ford-Young argued that education is a vital part of
young people's sexual health:
As a general practitioner, I have an advantage
in that when I see a patient I can provide some education, but
that is all too often too late because they may be presenting
me with a problem and we have missed the boat. That has to take
place in education and not be left to health.
79. The basic biology of sex and relationship education
is part of the statutory science element of the National Curriculum.
By Key Stage 3 (ages 11 to 14), a child should have learnt about
reproduction, and the changes that they will go through at puberty.
By Key Stage 4 (ages14 to16), a young teenager should have learnt
in more detail about the process of conception, and how hormonal
methods of contraception such as the pill work to prevent it.
The theory of how some sexually transmitted infections are spread
should also be referred to as young people learn, as part of the
National Curriculum in science, about viruses and how they are
transmitted, but this will not necessarily cover all STIs.
80. However, these isolated biological facts are
the only aspects of sex and relationships education that have
a compulsory statutory basis. The biological facts are intended
to be supplemented by, and interwoven with, a broader sex and
relationships curriculum, which includes the social and emotional
aspects of sexual relationships, through a dedicated framework
for "Sex and Relationships Education" (SRE), which forms
part of the Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum.
This broader SRE and PSHE curriculum is not statutory.
81. Guidance on SRE was issued by the DfES in 2000.
This guidance specifies that at primary school, children should
be taught about puberty and menstruation, and at secondary school
about contraception, abortion, and STIs including HIV and AIDS,
all against a backdrop of education about relationships. However,
as this guidance is not statutory, Boards of Governors within
individual schools have considerable discretion as to how it is
implemented in individual schools. Pupils do not sit examinations
or assessments in SRE or PSHE. SRE may be covered within a school's
OFSTED inspection, but in practice this may mean no more than
checking the school's policy or discussing it with a teacher.
82. Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) formed
a key aspect of our previous report into sexual health. Amongst
other things we recommended:
- Renewed emphasis on the 'relationships'
aspect of sex and relationships education
- Location of SRE within the National Curriculum
to ensure it received adequate priority
- Use of specialist teachers to teach SRE
- Young people's health services to be integrated
83. Anne Weyman of the FPA raised this issue with
us, and reported that in her view there had not been very much
progress since our previous report:
Although the Department of Education says that it
is committed and then there is guidance for schools, it is quite
clearly not happening. I think we have to go on making the demands
for sex and relationships education to become a broad programme,
not the small amount of sex education that is currently compulsory
but that we have this within the National Curriculum from an early
84. A recent report into PSHE by OFSTED generally
endorsed this view, identifying many shortcomings in this area:
- Perhaps the most significant
weakness in PSHE relates to assessment. Currently, there is little
assessment of pupils' subject knowledge or of their progress
- Some schools do not provide the subject in any
- Some schools have included other subjects such
as citizenship within their PSHE programmes. Of these schools,
too many have failed to ensure that the curriculum and teaching
time for PSHE has not been adversely affected by the demands of
provision of National Curriculum citizenship.
- The quality of teaching by specialist teachers
remains considerably better than that of non-specialist form tutors.
Where tutors are teaching PSHE, they are given insufficient training
to help them improve their subject knowledge and the teaching
skills needed in the subject.
- In many of the schools where PSHE is taught by
form tutors the curriculum can be placed under
Here, the problem is caused by a lack of clarity between their
roles and responsibilities as a tutor and that of the PSHE teacher.
This lack of clarity between the two roles leads to a reduction
in the time for PSHE as tutors give too much time to other activities
such as monitoring pupils' progress and target setting.
85. We took oral evidence from Julie Bramman, a senior
official at the Department for Education and Skills. Ms Bramman
agreed about the importance of ensuring that young people receive
education about sex and relationships from specialist teachers
who are both competent and confident in teaching children about
such sensitive subjects:
I think the key points that come out of the Ofsted
report are around teacher confidence and teacher competence in
actually teaching sex and relationship education within PSHE
think that that is really what we need to be doing, making it
part of a specialist process, which it has not traditionally been,
with geography and history, as it is quite clearly a specialist
subject, rather than leaving it to form tutors which seems to
be the majority of practice at the moment 
86. Ms Bramman also told us that 2,000 teachers were
currently training to become accredited in PSHE tuition, either
as their main specialism, or as a secondary specialism.
We welcome the acknowledgement by the Department for Education
and Skills that Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) and
Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) lessons are far better taught
by specialist teachers than by form tutors, and are pleased that
increasing numbers of teachers are completing specialist training
to becoming accredited PSHE teachers. However, we remain deeply
concerned that, by DfES's own admission, in the majority of schools
PSHE and SRE lessons are taught by form tutors rather than by
specialist teachers. We therefore recommend that the DfES issue
specific guidance to schools stipulating that by 2007 all PSHE
and SRE lessons must be taught by specialist accredited PSHE teachers
rather than by unqualified form tutors. These teachers should
build up and maintain links with clinicians working in sexual
health, including community nurses and GPs, who can often contribute
very usefully to SRE but who should not be used as a substitute
for a qualified SRE teacher.
87. Other concerns raised in the OFSTED report related
to the fact that PSHE is not assessed, and that it is often afforded
insufficient time and priority within the school curriculum. The
most extreme example of this was of schools reported by OFSTED
to be failing to provide any PSHE at all. Ms Bramman told us that
in the case of those schools,
We will clearly have to have very serious conversations
with the school about ensuring it has adequate PSHE just as in
the same way as if it did not have adequate mathematics or English.
88. However, here Ms Bramman identified a key problem
with PSHE, which is that although DfES may take PSHE as seriously
as subjects like mathematics or English, many schools simply do
not, because unlike mathematics or English it is not a statutory
part of the National Curriculum on which pupils, and therefore
schools, are assessed. OFSTED's concerns largely reflected the
evidence we received about SRE and PSHE in our previous inquiry,
and these could be rectified by establishing PSHE, including SRE,
as a statutory and assessed part of the national curriculum, as
we recommended in our previous report. When we put this to Ms
Bramman, however, she replied that DFES had no intention of making
89. We are disappointed that, despite a report
from its own schools inspectorate stating that a major weakness
of PSHE is its current lack of assessment, and the fact that it
is often afforded insufficient time and priority within the school
curriculum, DfES is unwilling to make PSHE and SRE a statutory
part of the national curriculum. The costs and consequences of
this ill considered decision are considerable. We again recommend
the establishment of PSHE and SRE as statutory and assessed parts
of the National Curriculum.