Campaigners win fight to include STIs within science curriculum

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Ministers have bowed to pressure from sex education organisations and added lessons on sexual health and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV and AIDS, into the new science curriculum for key stage 4.

Ministers have bowed to pressure from sex education organisations and added lessons on sexual health and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV and AIDS, into the new science curriculum for key stage 4.

However, experts have warned that these will only be effective if they continue on from high-quality sex and relationships education (SRE) earlier in children’s education.

In an amendment to the GCSE curriculum, the Department for Education (DfE) said that the changes to what pupils were taught supported the government’s ambition “to build knowledge and resilience about sexual health among young people”.

It adds: “It is important that young people are taught all aspects of sex education.”

The revised curriculum, which is now subject to a public consultation, lists under subject content for biology “the relationship between health and disease communicable diseases including sexually transmitted infections in humans (including HIV/AIDs).”

The original draft of the new national curriculum had not mentioned STIs in either key stage of secondary education. It led to campaigners last year voicing concerns that sex education was being “watered down” and calling for it to be “unambiguously” included in the science curriculum.

At the time, more than 100 organisations and individuals ranging from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to Mumsnet, the Sex Education Forum (SEF), and the National Children’s Bureau, signed a letter to the DfE. 

It said the proposed changes would not help schools in their work to create an honest and open culture around sex and relationships, and urged the government “to put any adult squeamishness about sex aside”.

The campaign to amend the curriculum was spearheaded by the SEF, which said that the original proposals would have “led to some young people missing out on vital sexual health information”.

Jane Lees, the organisation’s chair, said the SEF continued to campaign for statutory sex education for all pupils, delivered in an age-appropriate way. 

She said that leaving sexual health until key stage 4 prevented students from building up a proper understanding of safe sex: “It is astonishing that at a time when we are concerned about issues such as sexual consent, the accessibility of pornography, and sexting by young people, we have no statutory sex education in schools.” 

She continued: “We were on the brink in 2008 but Labour left it too late and the coalition decided it was up to schools how they taught it. The reality is that some schools don’t teach it at all.”

Ms Lees said having SRE in every year of school helps children build up the understanding needed for good sexual health, and ensures that children learn about stigma and challenging prejudice, as well as the biological aspects of the transmission, prevention and treatment of STIs, including HIV.

“These latest amendments to the curriculum are going some way to ensuring our young people are taught what they need to know, but it should not be left until the final years of secondary schools,” she added. Such teaching should build on earlier learning about how our bodies work and about relationships. We will continue to campaign for action to make the broader subjects of sex and relationships education statutory in all schools.”

A consultation over the proposed changes for the proposed new key stage 4 science curriculum closes on October 30. For the full documentation, visit http://bit.ly/1urDSOT

CAPTION: STI victory: The bacteria that causes gonorrhea – ministers have agreed to include STIs and sexual health within the key stage 4 science curriculum


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