Sex education is a vital part of children’s learning yet for far too long it was neglected. These days, even if the subject remains a source of embarrassment and awkwardness at home – we can expect schools to provide sensitively drawn lessons on the complexities of physical and emotional relationships.
Yet one group of children do not necessarily participate in these classes. Scotland’s faith schools – which teach a fifth of all pupils – follow their own guidance on sex education.
Now, campaigners say, faith schools should lose the right to opt out of the classes provided to children at non-denominational schools.
Last month, Westminster announced that it was considering making sex education compulsory in all schools. Ministers said they were minded to act because of claims that sexual bullying and harassment had become accepted as part of everyday life by pupils.
Young people are bombarded with highly sexualised imagery across popular culture and in advertising. Add to this the easy availability of extreme pornography and it appears to us that the danger is that children grow up with a distorted view of what is expected of them in adulthood.
If we truly want gender equality and to raise young people who respect those with different sexualities, then we must encourage sex education in all schools – regardless of whether their teaching is faith-based or not.
Rachel Adamson, the co-director of charity Zero Tolerance Scotland, which campaigns against gender-based violence, says that schools are a key place in which the primary causes of gender based violence may be tackled. For this to happen, she says, pupils must be equipped with the knowledge they need to make healthy and informed decisions in their relationships. And this education must be made available to all children, regardless of the school they attend.
Politicians are always wary about upsetting those who support faith schools but, in this instance, the needs of pupils outweigh the concerns of parents and religious leaders.