Diana Johnson: Education equips young people for life in fast-changing world
TODAY, growing up is full of opportunities and freedoms for our young people.
However, virtually every day's news reminds us that there are also challenges, dangers and pressures that young people have to deal with.
In the Commons recently, I launched The Relationship, Drug and Alcohol Education (Curriculum) Bill.
This requires high-quality relationships, drugs and alcohol education to be taught in all schools, including academies and free schools.
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I believe that schools should teach more than the current limited range of academic subjects.
Education has a powerful role in equipping young people for life in a fast-changing world.
Giving young people the life skills to make wise choices will help combat the costly social ills of binge-drinking, drug abuse, unplanned pregnancies, domestic violence and relationship breakdowns.
There is evidence that life skills programmes can have a measurable impact on young people's behaviour in alcohol, drugs and relationships.
Only one hour a week in the National Curriculum would be needed.
These subjects were close to being made compulsory under the previous Labour Government, but the Conservatives blocked it at the end of the previous Parliament.
The coalition then instigated a review of what to do next and, although this concluded a year ago, we have heard nothing since.
Drugs have been a problem for generations, wrecking many lives, but there is now the growing problem of new drugs known as "legal highs" or "club drugs".
There were 28 new "legal highs" in the first five months of this year.
Most people have no idea of their effect, especially if mixed with alcohol.
The Government's own recent Alcohol Strategy mentions the importance of education in helping to cut alcohol consumption among young people.
Worryingly, all reference to alcohol and drugs have been removed from the revised science national curriculum.
The only compulsory sex and relationships education that our young people receive is within the science curriculum.
This is restricted to anatomy, reproduction and sexually transmitted infections.
Evidence shows that decent relationships education does not encourage young people to become sexually active, but will actually delay the age at which a young person starts a sexual relationship.
With all the horrific stories about child abuse, such as the Jimmy Savile scandal, we know that sex and relationships education can teach young people the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, to be more confident in resisting peer pressure and to know who to talk to and get support when needed.
My Bill has cross-party support and is backed by many organisations with expertise in the fields of young people, alcohol and drugs.
These include Alcohol Concern, The Amy Wine- house Foundation, Turning Point and many others.
These organisations recognise that educating young people can help prevent social problems developing.
In our free society, we cannot protect young people from every danger, and they need to understand their rights and responsibilities equally, but a modern education should equip them better with skills that tilt the odds in their favour.