Children from the age of 11 are to be taught about sexual consent under new government plans.
The government said it wanted to give young people a “better understanding of the society around them” so they could “make informed choices and stay safe”.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said there were “unimaginable pressures” for young people growing up.
The lessons are planned for mixed and single-sex state and independent schools in every part of England.
Healthy relationships ‘crucial’
The plans are being drawn up by the Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) Association, an organisation set up in 2006 to oversee PSHE teaching.
The introduction to the draft document, which is due to be launched this year, says young people should be taught about consent before they are sexually active.
It says learning about healthy relationships is “crucial” to keeping those under the age of 16 who are sexually active “healthy and safe from abuse and exploitation”.
The document added that “recognising that some young people will be sexually active before the age of 16 does not equate to encouraging underage sexual activity”.
Speaking on the Murnaghan programme on Sky News, Mrs Morgan said it was right to explore issues around consent “in an age-appropriate way”.
She said: “We’ve seen this week with the issues about child sexual exploitation that growing up today is difficult and I think there are unimaginable pressures – compared to when I was growing up – on young people, particularly on girls.
“And I do think it’s right, again in an age-appropriate way, that issues around consent, when consent is given, when it is not given, when something goes way beyond the boundaries, who do you report to, it is important. And I know schools want to have the confidence and the tools to teach that well.”
‘Inadequacy’ of action
A DfE spokesman said “good PSHE teaching” gave young people a better understanding of the society around them and supported them to “make informed choices and stay safe”.
They added: “We are ensuring teachers have high-quality resources and appropriate support and guidance so they can tackle the issues facing young people today.
“We will also raise the status of PSHE to recognise those schools which are already providing pupils with a well-rounded curriculum and ensure all parents can be confident their child’s school is providing a curriculum for life.”
However, while the PSHE Association welcomed Mrs Morgan highlighting its plans, it said it was “deeply disappointed” the government had not responded to an Education Select Committee recommendation to make PSHE a statutory part of the curriculum.
Joe Hayman, chief executive of the PSHE Association, said: “Without this change, topics like consent will continue to be squeezed from school timetables and taught by untrained teachers.
“Given that five recent child sexual exploitation inquiries have all highlighted the need for schools to teach pupils how to keep themselves and others safe, the inadequacy of government action on this area is surprising and deeply disappointing.”