UK Government moves to give young people right over sex education opt out

As part of its package of reforms around Relationships and Sex Education, being announced today, the UK Government has announced that it is essentially going to give young people the right to make their own decision about opting out from sex education in English schools, when they are sufficiently mature enough to make their own mind up on the subject.

Humanists UK, which has been calling for this change for many years, has welcomed the move as a huge advance for young people's’ rights.

Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds has told MPs:

‘A right for parents to withdraw their child up to the age of 18, which has normally existed historically, is no longer compatible with English case law, or the European Convention on Human Rights, as it does not take into account the point at which a child becomes competent to make this decision for themselves.

‘An end to the parental right at age 16 would not be compatible, as it does not allow a child to opt in to sex education before the legal age of consent.

‘I have therefore decided to give parents the right to request their child be withdrawn from some or all of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE. Headteachers will make a decision with the support of the statutory guidance, which sets out that unless there are exceptional circumstances, the parents’ request should be granted until three terms before the pupil turns 16.

‘At that point, if the child wishes to have sex education, the headteacher should ensure they receive it in one of those terms.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson welcomed the announcement, ‘We can’t praise the Government enough for this progressive advance. Children are not the possessions of their parents but human beings with their own rights. Government is right to recognise this and bring us one step closer to making sure every young person is healthy, happy, and safe.

‘We hope the Government now follows up this announcement by making similar moves for young people under the age of 16 with respect to religious education and collective worship, where the law now lags behind and that Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish politicians take heed and make similar moves with respect to their own curriculums.’