Lack of sex education fuelling sexually transmitted infections

LGA press release 15 February 2017

Making sex and relationship education (SRE) compulsory in secondary academies and free schools could reduce the thousands of sexually transmitted infections diagnosed in young people later on in life, councils say today.

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says age-appropriate SRE needs to be an essential part of all secondary schoolchildren's curriculum, with parents given the choice of opting their child out.

Councils, which have responsibility for public health, argue that without this, youngsters are not being prepared for adulthood, and as a result are being diagnosed with a worryingly high number of sexually transmitted infections.

The LGA is concerned that the number of STI diagnoses rockets once people have left school, with 141,060 new diagnoses for 20 to 24-year-olds in 2015, compared with 78,066 for those aged 15 to 19.

Town halls say this needs to be recognised as a major health protection issue, which could be tackled by SRE in schools.

SRE is compulsory in council-maintained secondary schools, but not in academies or free schools, which make up 65 per cent of all secondary schools.

According to the January 2016 census of the number of schools and pupils, more than two million young people study in secondary academies and free schools.

The LGA says that SRE should be made compulsory teaching, with statutory guidance to make sure that all schools are covering key issues including sexual health.

But at the same time, parents should be given the option of removing their children from the lessons.

Recent polling by charity Plan International UK found that more than eight in 10 people think SRE should be compulsory in schools.

Sexual health is one of the biggest areas of public health spending for councils, with approximately £600 million budgeted each year.

Chairman of the Local Government Association's Community Wellbeing Board, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said:

"This is a major health protection issue.

"The lack of compulsory sex and relationship education in academies and free schools is storing up problems for later on in life, creating a ticking sexual health time bomb, as we are seeing in those who have recently left school.

"The shockingly high numbers of STI diagnoses in teenagers and young adults, particularly in the immediate post-school generation, is of huge concern to councils.

"We believe that making sex and relationship education compulsory in all secondary schools, not just council-maintained ones, could make a real difference in reversing this trend, by preparing pupils for adulthood and enabling them to better take care of themselves and future partners.

"The focus needs to be on arming them with the knowledge they need to tackle what lies ahead. Life as a teenager is complicated enough.

"The evidence suggests that when designed and delivered in the right way, SRE can have a really positive impact on a pupil's development.

"However, we are also conscious that some parents may wish to remove their children from this, which is why we are saying there should also be provision for parents to opt their children out of lessons, if they consider this to be in the best interests of their child."

Notes to editors

21 February 2017

Contact

David Mills
020 7664 3200
david.mills@local.gov.uk