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The politics of school sex education policy in England and Wales from the 1940s to the 1960s

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 00:33 authored by James HampshireJames Hampshire
This article explores the political history of school sex education policy in England and Wales. Focusing on the period from the 1940s to the 1960s, it shows how sex education developed as a controversial political issue through an analysis of the differing institutional cultures and agendas of health and education administrators. The article argues that serious consideration of school sex education by central government was first prompted by concern about venereal disease during the Second World War. Thereafter, two groups of actors emerged with conflicting ideas about the role of government in prescribing school sex education. The medical establishment, including the Ministry of Health, was broadly supportive of a national policy, whereas the Department of Education, which had ultimate responsibility for any such policy in schools, sought to avoid decision-making about the issue. The article explores how a public health consensus on sex education developed and then explains why the Department of Education resisted this consensus.


Publication status

  • Published


Social History of Medicine




Oxford University Press





Page range




Department affiliated with

  • Politics Publications


This single-authored article is published in a leading specialist journal published by Oxford University Press. The article presents some of the findings of an AHRC-funded project on the political history of sex education policy in Britain. It argues that postwar sex education policy was shaped by conflict between two different policy coalitions, in the health and education fields respectively, and it explains the retarded development of sex education policy in terms of this conflict. The article breaks new ground by showing how a public health consensus in favour of school sex education was stymied by resistance from the department of education. Although it is essentially an historical analysis, the article has contemporary relevance because this fault line arguably persists in sex education policymaking to this day. Its findings have been disseminated at national conferences.

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