The Children and Social Work Act 2017 required the Secretary of State for Education to make the subjects of Relationships Education at primary and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) at secondary compulsory through regulations.
In early 2018, a public consultation invited interested organisations, teachers, parents and young people to provide evidence and views on the future content of RSE. The findings from this have informed the drafting of newly published regulations and statutory guidance, which the government is now consulting on (click here). The responses to this consultation will help finalise the regulations and statutory guidance before these are put before Parliament and finally published for use in schools.
The consultation asks for views on Relationships Education (for primary schools); RSE (for secondary); and Physical Health and Wellbeing Education (for all ages), specifically asking whether the content for each is age appropriate, and whether it will help young people have positive relationships and lead a healthy lifestyle. There are also questions about SEND, working with parents, and parents’ right to withdraw their child from sex education.
Here’s the gist of what is included in the new guidance:
Relationships Education in primary schools – statutory, with no parental right of withdrawal
The areas of knowledge to be covered by the end of primary are:
· Families and people who care for me
· Caring friendships
· Respectful relationships
· Online relationships
· Being safe
Sex Education in primary schools – not statutory, with a parental right of withdrawal
Sex education will not be compulsory in primary schools. However, the primary national curriculum for science already covers related areas, such as the main external body parts, puberty and reproduction in some plants and animals. It will be for primary schools to decide whether to cover any additional sex education content to meet their pupils’ needs.
The guidance recommends that primary school sex education programmes should be tailored to the age and maturity of pupils and that, through the science curriculum, both boys and girls should be prepared for puberty and know how a baby is conceived and born. Each school will be required to set out what additional sex education topics they will teach in a policy and consult with parents.
Secondary RSE – statutory, with a parental right of withdrawal up to the age of 15*
The areas of knowledge to be covered by the end of secondary are:
· Respectful relationships, including friendships
· Online and media
· Being safe
· Intimate and sexual relationships, including sexual health
The guidance is clear about the knowledge needed to support good sexual health: the full range of contraception; facts and choices around pregnancy; STI information; and how to get help from sexual health services.
There is also a focus on consent: both actively communicating consent and recognising consent from others.
Physical Health and Wellbeing Education – statutory, with no parental right of withdrawal
The areas of knowledge to be covered in primary and secondary are:
· Mental wellbeing
· Internet safety and harms
· Physical health and fitness
· Healthy eating
· Drugs, alcohol and tobacco
· Health and prevention
· Basic first aid
· Changing adolescent body
The guidance places equal importance on mental wellbeing and physical health. Related topics are already covered in the PE and computing curriculums.
Working with parents
The draft guidance regards parents as the first educators of their children, as they ‘have the most significant influence in enabling their children to grow and mature and to form healthy relationships.’
All schools will be required to work closely with parents when planning and delivering RSE. Parents should be informed about what will be taught and when, and about their right to withdraw their child from some, or all, sex education lessons, delivered as part of statutory RSE.*
*Parents’ right to withdraw a child from sex education
Parents have the right to withdraw their child from some, or all, sex education lessons delivered as part of statutory RSE, up to and until three terms before the child turns 16. After this point, the child can request to receive sex education rather than be withdrawn.
When dealing with a parental request for withdrawal, the guidance recommends that the Head Teacher discusses the request with the parent (and, if appropriate, with the child) to clarify the request, discuss the nature of the curriculum, and talk about the impact withdrawal from the lessons may have.
Themes within the draft guidance
The guidance does not map out what should be taught at each key stage, as is the case with other curriculum subjects, but instead talks about ‘building blocks’, ‘clear progression from Primary to Secondary’, and ‘extending teaching at the appropriate time to include intimate relationships.’
The guidance recognises the impact that relationships have on ‘mental wellbeing and self-respect.’
‘Deliberate cultivation and practice of resilience and positive virtues in the individual’ is referred to throughout the guidance, which sits within a wider remit of encouraging young people to take part in ‘social action, active citizenship and voluntary service.’
Inclusivity is a recurrent theme e.g. Relationships Education will acknowledge that there are many different forms of family.
The guidance states that pupils with SEND must access lessons on these subjects and, in fact, these pupils may have an increased need to be taught these subjects. For instance, schools should be aware that ‘some pupils are more vulnerable to exploitation, bullying and other issues due to the nature of their SEND.’
The guidance recognises that there will be a wide range of differing opinions, about sex education in particular, and states that the starting point should always be the law. Schools will be able to choose ‘to explore faith, or other perspectives, on some of these issues in other subjects such as Religious Education.’
Other points to consider:
The consultation gives an opportunity to make general comments about the guidance. Here are a few things that the guidance isn’t completely clear on, which you may want to consider:
There are no specifics about how much of the school timetable should be given to these new statutory subjects. Should it be specific, or is flexibility more important?
The guidance sets out what pupils should know by the end of primary and secondary but, unlike the programmes of study for other curriculum subjects, this is not broken down by year or key stage. Should it be, or is flexibility more important?
The value of using external educators is recognised in the guidance, but as an enhancement of, rather than a replacement of, teaching by ‘an appropriate member of the teaching staff.’ However, many schools are worried how they are going to train and equip teaching staff. Should the staff, or external educators, delivering these subjects have a minimum level of qualification in the subject, such as an accredited training certificate in relationships and sex education?
The guidance is not clear whether or not children should be taught the correct terms for genitalia – vulva, testicles etc. – something which Ofsted and the Education Select Committee recommended. Should this be spelt out clearly in the guidance?
As parents have the right to request that their child is excused from that the sex education elements of RSE, should the guidance be clearer about which elements these are?