The government refuses to make sex and relationship education compulsory in schools

PSHE education is a non-statutory subject on the school curriculum. However, section 2.5 of the national curriculum states that all state schools 'should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice'.

But now the chairs of five parliamentary select committees have written to the Education Secretary for England Justine Greening asking for the government to make sex and relationship education (SRE) compulsory in all schools - something it has refused to do.

The letter expresses concern at the government's response to a women and equalities committee report into the sexual harassment and sexual abuse of pupils in schools.

That report concluded that compulsory personal, social, health and economic education including up-to-date SRE, was needed to help schools tackle such issues, but the government is adamant that it has no intention of forcing all schools to run the lessons.

The letter states that the five chairs of the select committees  "regret that the government's response to that report failed to seize the opportunity of announcing plans to introduce statutory status for PSHE… We ask that you give serious thought to this proposal and the benefits that would arise from it.

"We also ask you to consider the consequences of failing to act; not only for the quality of education in England, but also for the lifelong consequences which can result from patchy or inadequate access to PHSE and SRE."

A Private Members' Bill (which obviously has no chance of becoming law, but helps publicise the issue) which is before the House of Commons at the moment calls for PSHE to be made statutory. 

This is not the first time this issue has arisen as the five committee chairs  wrote to the previous secretary of state Nicky Morgan last January asking her to make PSHE statutory.

Charities and teaching unions have also been critical of the government's response to the report by the women and equalities committee.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said: "Yet again we see a parliamentary report call for statutory PSHE.

"Yet again the government's response is to do nothing. PSHE is crucial to provide time in the curriculum to discuss important and sensitive issues, and to protect teachers when grappling with these subjects.

"To tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence, education has to be the key, with good quality age-appropriate sex and relationships education, and PSHE for all pupils."

Lisa Hallgarten, co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum said that the "case for statutory SRE has been made very powerfully over a number of years and is settled".

"There is abundant evidence that good-quality SRE helps protect children and young people and can positively impact on sexual behaviour; and that current delivery of SRE is patchy and often inadequate to meet the needs of children and young people," she added.

This is just one of the critical commentaries of the government concerning its approach to children and sex education.  Freedom of Information requests to the police earlier this year found a 1,200 per cent increase of under-16s "sexting" and an increasing number using the Tinder app.

However David Cameron, when he was Prime Minister, also refused to act on the "premature sexualisation" of Britain's young people as it has been called.

The Labour Party in a statement added that around one in six children are now accessing Tinder, and almost half of those children are aged 15 and under, according to Labour's research.

The government's current guidance to schools has also not been updated since "before the smartphone generation were even born" in 2000, said the party.

Although the lack of compulsion in teaching sex and relationship education does not prohibit its teaching, the fact is that because it is not a compulsory subject it tends to be squeezed out in some schools as they work to meet the parts of the curriculum that are monitored by inspectors.

It is suggested in some quarters that the government is wary of causing problems for some faith schools if the teaching of the subject is made compulsory, since this would suggest the introduction of at least an outline curriculum that schools would have to follow.