When it comes to education policy it’s true that it is virtually impossible to please everybody.
Any new policy announcement is likely to split opinion and receive as much criticism as it does praise.
The government’s new curriculum guidelines on mental health, relationships and sex education have certainly had such a reaction.
In fact, they have divided opinion widely.
The new guidelines have been met with a mixture of praise and disgust.
Some people believe they have gone too far: others think they have failed to go far enough and argue they represent a cop out.
All pupils to be taught about mental health
The one aspect of the new guidelines that has been almost universally praised is the fact that all children in England will now be taught how to look after their own mental health and to identify when their peers may be struggling.
There is also broad agreement that sex education should be based on a firm appreciation of the importance of valuing positive relationships and of mutual respect.
Most people also have no issue with the principle – grounded in the new guidelines – that there is an obvious connection between strong mental health and positive relationships, or that these also link to physical wellbeing.
There appears to be a general consensus that it is appropriate that a universal approach is taken – one that places health education alongside sex education and relationships.
However, that consensus disintegrates when it comes down to the finer details of how this universal education should be applied.
Children to be taught about gay and transgender relationships
Some reports in the press have suggested that children as young as four will be taught about gay and transgender relationships.
However, although the relationships education is compulsory, the draft guidance explains that schools are free to decide how to address the LGBT content.
The Department for Education recommends that the LGBT content is integral to the programmes of study but insists that schools should always ensure that their teaching is age-appropriate and sensitive.
Education Secretary, Damian Hinds believes that primary-age pupils should be taught about respectful relationships and having respect for all kinds of people.
Hinds suggests that it is relationships in a broad sense – interactions with other children and adults and friendships – that should be dealt with from a very young age.
The first shake-up of sex education for two decades
The new guidelines are the first shake-up of sex education in two decades and the government has been criticised for not acting sooner to educate children about the digital world and the changes it has created in the way people interact with others.
Furthermore, it seems late in the day to address the challenges that the internet and social media have added to the already substantial pressures that growing up and adolescence bring.
It’s almost 20 years since the guidance for sex education was updated.
There is a lot to catch up on, but relationship and sex education in schools remains a contentious issue.
Religious groups have led a campaign against proposals to teach pupils about LGBT issues and same-sex marriage.
In addition, a petition arguing that parents should have the right to remove their children from relationships and sex education lessons has gathered over 100,000 signatures.
The government has also been accused of fudging the issue.
This is because, although sex education is mandatory on the secondary school curriculum, parents can ‘opt-out’ their children until just before their sixteenth birthday; so, it’s not really compulsory at all.
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