Compulsory sex and relationship lessons for 11-year-old children in Britain are to include classroom discussions on gay unions and civil partnerships. Secondary pupils will learn about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, while primary school children will learn about their bodies and friendships, a review of sex education has concluded.

The review was ordered in October after ministers announced that sex education lessons should be made compulsory to help primary and secondary pupils to “navigate the complexities of modern life” and to ensure that children learned their sex education from the classroom, not the playground.

The changes to personal, social, health and economic education classes mark the culmination of decades of campaigning by sexual health organizations, who believe that the patchy nature of sex education in schools is helping to fuel a record level of teenage pregnancy and STDs in England.

Monday night campaigners welcomed the review, conducted by Sir Alasdair MacDonald, a secondary head teacher in Tower Hamlets, East London. However, they suggested that its recommendations did not go far enough.

Although the new classes will be compulsory from 2011, faith schools in England will be given licence to provide sex and relationships education within the context of their own values. This could mean that children will be taught that their religion regards the use of contraceptives as a sin. Parents will also have a legal right to withdraw children from the classes. Currently one in 2,500 parents withdraws children from non-statutory sex education classes.

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