Education & Family

Update sex education guidance to schools, says Clegg

Child's eye reflected on screen
Image caption Mr Clegg said sex education needed to change to keep up with the "menacing" potential of the internet

Sex education guidance needs updating and should apply to all schools, the deputy prime minister has said.

Nick Clegg said the existing guidelines needed to change to reflect the "menacing" potential of the internet.

Mr Clegg said he had not yet convinced the Conservatives that all English schools - including academies and free schools - should follow the guidelines.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said teachers should be given the resources and trusted to get it right.

Mr Clegg was responding to a challenge on his LBC radio phone-in from a 17-year-old girl, who warned of pressure on children to behave like porn stars.

He said the guidance was last changed 13 years ago "and the world is a very different place now".

'Raise expectations'

"In many respects it's a more liberating place, not least because of the internet but it's also a more menacing place - particularly, but not only, for young girls."

Mr Clegg said "there are lots of schools - academies, free schools and so on - who don't need to follow the guidelines, even the outdated ones".

The guidelines are contained in the national curriculum, which does not apply to academies and free schools.

"I haven't been able to persuade Michael Gove and the Conservatives to move all the way on this," he said.

"They've moved some of the way."

Mr Clegg said that guidance on pornography and cyberbullying in the national curriculum for IT "has some bearing on this".

"The national curriculum, even though that doesn't need to be taught by all schools, does sort of at least raise the expectations that schools should teach this."

He stressed that Mr Gove was a "perfectly intelligent bloke" and they had "compromised".

"He's got a well-expressed and articulate view that schools shouldn't be burdened with too many directives from central government," he said.

"But I just happen to think in this instance given how menacing this is, particularly for young girls, my own view is this is an area where actually we do need to both update the guidance... and raise the expectation that all schools do this properly in the classroom."

Guidance reviewed

Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4's World at One that the government had recently reviewed the guidance for sex education.

He said that "practitioners" had suggested there was no point in attempting to update official guidance "when technology changes so rapidly".

"The most important thing is to make sure that we provide the resources that teachers need, that we trust teachers to deliver sex and relationship education in the right way, but we give them the chance to talk to experts," Mr Gove added.

A Department for Education statement added that the government review had "found that the existing guidance offers a sound framework for sex and relationship education in school.

"The best people to help schools deal with changing technology are the experts. Our sex and relationship education guidance directs schools to draw on the up-to-date advice produced by experts to use in sex and relationship education."

The statement said the government had also given almost £3m to charities providing state-of-the-art materials on cyberbullying and added: "We have told schools to access these to develop their own policies."

Lucy Emmerson of the Sex Education Forum welcomed Nick Clegg's comments: "We hope the views of the deputy prime minister will be reflected in the final version of the national curriculum.

"The latest version dropped all mention of sexual health from science and excluded naming genitalia. This has serious consequences for children's safety and health."

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