It was World Book Day this week. The day when Facebook feeds are filled with snaps of primary school children dressed up as cute characters from their favourite tomes. And boy did they look sweet as they trundled into school tails swinging innocently for a day of counting and colouring.
But in a couple of year’s time children dressed as Harry Potter and Little Red Riding Hood could be learning something a heck of a lot more grown up than simply adding and subtracting. For under new plans announced by the Government this week, children as young as four will be taught about sex education.
As part of a major overhaul, sex and relationship education in the UK is to be made compulsory in all schools by 2019. This means that children from reception age upwards will be taught about “safe and healthy relationships”.
Under the move, all primary schools in England will have to teach “age appropriate” lessons about relationships, while secondaries will have to give classes in both sex and relationships. Currently, sex education is compulsory only for secondary pupils in schools run by local authorities.
“I am today announcing my intention to put relationships and sex education on a statutory footing, so every child has access to age appropriate provision, in a consistent way,” Justine Greening, education secretary said in a statement.
“The statutory guidance for sex and relationships education was introduced in 2000 and is becoming increasingly outdated,” she continued.
“It fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyber bullying, ‘sexting’ and staying safe online.
The Government’s new drive is born out of recent scary statistics, which reveal that the number of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) has risen to pretty uncomfortable levels. In 2015, 141,000 new cases of STIs were diagnosed in 20-24 year olds and 78,000 discovered in 15-19-year-olds. It makes for grim reading.
No-one could deny the scale of the problem, but is teaching children as young as four the solution?
My initial reaction was no way! At four, they can barely identify their own body parts, let alone be taught about how babies are made.
Children grow up quick enough as it is, to introduce four year olds to a world of adult emotions and grown-up relationships takes some of the magic away, not to mention their innocence.
Childhood is a most precious time and is gone in a blink of an eye, should we just not allow them to hold onto that innocence for a little longer? Should children not be allowed to be children?
I’m not the only one who has concerns about teaching the littlest of school children about sex. A recent survey revealed that more than half of all parents do not think sex education should be taught to children from a young age in schools.
The main reason parents gave for disagreeing with the practice of teaching sex education at younger ages was that it is: “inappropriate to teach children about sex”.
But other parents also said that it should be up to them to choose when and how to talk to their children about sex and sexuality.
The Government says that parents will have the right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons at school should they wish to do so. But, will that mean children then become out of kilt with their friends in terms of what they are being taught?
And, in taking it upon themselves to educate their own children sexually, will it become just another thing on the parental to-do list that doesn’t get done properly?
Justine Greening rightly points out that there are new risks facing children today, that they need to be informed about – the Internet, sexting, cyber bullying, online harassment.
No one wants to believe their four-year-old needs to learn this stuff, but, the reality is, unless you live in a tech-free bubble, they are going to need to be taught about the dangers of social media, sexting and the like. And maybe it is better that they are all taught together in a safe, comprehensive way with other kids their age?
It certainly seems to work for the Dutch, who start teaching sex education from as young as four. The result has been a pregnancy rate among teenage girls is one of the lowest in Europe.
The Government says that for four-year-olds the focus of the sex education will be on healthy relationships, personal boundaries, communication and respect and not the kind of condom-on-the-banana demonstrations we remember sniggering at.
Comprehensive sex education for older children has been proven in some cases to lower the rate of teenage pregnancies and STI transmission. So maybe teaching younger children about healthy relationships could do the same for rates of sexual assault and help discourage children from entering abusive relationships.
So while I admit that at first I wasn’t sure about the idea of children who can barely add two and two learning about some pretty adult stuff, I’m now coming round to the idea.
The fact is that children are going to learn about sex, whether from their friends, YouTube or the TV. So perhaps it’s better that the information they get is accurate and from a reliable, well-informed source.
Plus, though I’m happy to back up the teachers with the inevitable after-school questions, it will save me awkwardly instigating the birds and bees chat in the first place. And for that I will be truly grateful.
What do you think? Is four too young for children to be taught about sex? Let us know @YahooStyleUK