A shake-up of the school curriculum will make periods and menstrual health a compulsory part of education at schools in England by 2020.
The Department of Education unveiled the new guidelines covering sex and health education in England on Monday — the first significant changes since 2000.
And it means vital global issues like consent, “honour-based” abuse, domestic abuse, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM) — focussing on its illegality and the support networks available — will be taught in all schools for pupils aged 11 and over.
The change in curriculum supports many of the UN’s Global Goals — 17 goals that work together to end extreme poverty by 2030. These include Goal 3 for health and well-being for everyone, and Goal 5 for gender equality, which includes a call for an end to gender-based violence, including FGM, and discrimination against women and girls.
“Almost 20 years on from the last time guidance on sex education was updated, there is a lot to catch up on,” said Damian Hinds, the education secretary, in a statement.
“Although sex education is only mandatory to teach at secondary, it must be grounded in a firm understanding and valuing of positive relationships, and respect for others, from primary age,” he added.
“In turn positive relationships are connected with good mental health, which itself is linked with physical well-being,” he continued. “So it is appropriate to make health education universal alongside relationships and sex education.”
The curriculum will also be LGBTQ+ inclusive, according to the BBC.
While sex education in England has been compulsory since 2017, the curriculum of what that includes has been significantly expanded following a public consultation.
WE have advocated for relationship education in schools for years, as the basis for teaching children #equality & mutual respect. Great to see this positive step from the government. The next step should be to prevent parents from opting out. #teachrespecthttps://t.co/1iNEkps8DD— WomensEqualityUK (@WEP_UK) February 25, 2019
The changes reportedly come under three new subjects — relationships education from primary school, relationships and sex education at secondary school, and health education for all ages, according to the Guardian.
Menstrual health and the menstrual cycle will now be taught in primary school for boys as well as girls, as increasingly younger girls are experiencing issues around periods.
The new plans are designed to make the connection between physical and mental health, according to reports, and will also cover health-related issues such as getting enough sleep, sexting and the potential dangers associated, and spotting the symptoms of anxiety in friends.
“That generation will have language in their vocabulary that we never had,” menstrual health campaigner Alice Smith told the BBC, discussing the curriculum changes.
“They’ll known how to describe things that we never did and they’ll be talking about periods in school and the biology of it, and the science behind it.”
Nevertheless, the changes have sparked concern among some parents, with over 100,000 people signing a petition — being debated by members of parliament (MPs) on Monday — calling for parents to have the opportunity of opting their child out of the relationship and sex education classes.
“We believe it is the parent’s fundamental right to teach their child RSE [relationship and sex education] topics, or to at least decide who teaches them and when and how they are taught,” wrote the petitioner, Dr. Katherine Sarah Godfrey-Faussett.
“We have grave concerns about the physical, psychological, and spiritual implications of teaching children about certain sexual and relational concepts proposed in RSE [relationships and sex education] and believe that they have no place within a mandatory school curriculum,” she wrote.
A protest was also held by lobby group Stop RSE to “protect childhood innocence” on Monday during the parliamentary debate, according to the Guardian.
In Wales, sex education guidance is open for consultation, according to the BBC, while in Northern Ireland each school has to have its own written policy on relationship and sex education.
Meanwhile, Scotland introduced guidance on sex education in 2014, but decisions about what to include in that is decided by schools and local authorities rather than being governed by a national curriculum.