Plans will see sex education become a part of the national curriculum in schools across the country

Government plans that could see compulsory sex education being taught to children as young as four have been deemed “abhorrent” by a pro-life charity.

The move to overhaul sex education in schools comes after a group of 23 Conservative MPs backed a change to the law that would see Sex and Relationship Education made a compulsory part of the National Curriculum.

The government has not announced what “sex and relationships” education will mean in practice, and will not to do until a consultation has taken place. It has said that primary and secondary schools will have different requirements. Parents will be able to opt out.

The charity Life has called the plans “abhorrent”, and warned that some campaigners want “relationships education” for primary school pupils to include approving masturbation.

Life’s Education Director Anne Scanlan said: “We have to question what the Government defines as sex education. If it is sex and relationships education in which the emphasis is on relationships, the teaching of self-esteem and self-respect, the avoidance of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, then we would support its delivery.”

But Scanlan added: “If schools are engaged in the delivery of explicit and inappropriate content in the classroom, it should be the absolute right of parents to withdraw their children from such corruptive sessions. We have heard of calls to teach masturbation to four year olds as part of sex education and leaflets telling primary school children that it is up to them to decide when to have sex.”

Under present legislation, sex education is compulsory in local-authority run schools but is limited to biology lessons.

Faith and free schools do not have to provide sex education under the current rulings.

The changes to the law will see pupils being taught about consent, how to recognise abuse in relationships and how to protect themselves from online grooming.

MPs backing the changes to the curriculum argue that failure to teach sex education in school can lead to “young people developing a sense that sexual harassment and sexual violence are acceptable behaviours and learning social norms that are carried through to adult life.”

A No 10 spokesman said: “The department will be saying more than this in due course. High quality relationship and sex education is an important part of preparing young people for adult life.”

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP KC*HS, Chairman of the Catholic Education Service, welcomed the government’s announcement, saying: “Catholic schools already teach age-appropriate Relationship and Sex Education in both primary and secondary schools. This is supported by a Catholic model RSE curriculum which covers the RSE curriculum from nursery all the way through to sixth form.

He added: “We additionally welcome the Government’s commitment to protect parental right of withdrawal and involve parents in all stages of the development and delivery of RSE in all schools. It is essential that parents fully support the school’s approach to these sensitive matters. The experience of Catholic schools is that parental involvement is the basis for providing consistent and high quality RSE at home and at school.

“We look forward to working closely with the Government to shape any new guidance to enable Catholic schools to continue to deliver outstanding RSE, in accordance with parents’ wishes and Church teaching.”