Guidance on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE)

The Department for Education (DfE) has proposed new guidelines for Relationship, sex and health education across England, with relationships, cyber safety and mental health all set to be included as part of the new curriculum.

Three new subjects have been created:

  • relationships education from primary school,
  • relationships and sex education at secondary school, and
  • health education for all ages in which students will learn, amongst other things, about the importance of getting enough sleep, the dangers of sexting and how to spot anxiety in their friends.

Primary Schools

Primary schools are not required to teach sex education. The Department continues, however, to recommend that primary schools should have a sex education programme tailored to the age and the physical and emotional maturity of the pupils. Many primary schools already choose to teach some aspects of sex education and will continue to do so. It is for primary schools to determine whether they need to cover any additional content on sex education, which isn’t included in the national curriculum for science, to meet the needs of their pupils.

Primary schools that choose to teach sex education must allow parents a right to withdraw their child. All primary schools must comply with a parent’s wish to withdraw their child from sex education beyond the content covered in the national curriculum for science. It is clear that headteachers should discuss with parents their request, as they will do in secondary schools.

For primary schools, headteachers will not be able to overrule a parent’s decision.

Secondary Schools

Although sex education is mandatory to teach at secondary, it must be grounded in a firm understanding and valuing of positive relationships, and respect for others, from primary age.

Parents have the right to withdraw their child from some aspects of sex education. This does not include what is taught as part of the science curriculum. The school should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child. However, before granting a request to withdraw a child, the head teacher should discuss the value and importance of RSE with parents. In addition, a child can request sex education without their parent’s consent from three terms before their 16th birthday

According to the new guidelines, secondary school pupils will be taught about issues such as: female genital mutilation (FGM) with a focus on awareness over its illegality and the availability of support networks. Students aged 11 and older should also be taught about other forms of “honour-based” abuse, as well as grooming, forced marriage and domestic abuse.

Concerns expressed from some groups

Some groups have expressed concerns about the physical, psychological and spiritual implications of teaching children about certain sexual and relational concepts proposed in RSE and believe that they have no place within a mandatory school curriculum.

The debate over whether children should be taught about LGBT rights has been brought into focus recently, where a primary school has been the target of protests from concerned parents.

It prompted an intervention from the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, who backed the teaching of same-sex relationships in primary schools, as well as secondaries.

Local authority actions

The local authority will work with the Waltham Forest Learning Partnership to discuss and agree ways of supporting schools to deal with the issues that may arise from the implementation of the new curriculum.

Further advice and guidance will be circulated to school staff.

Headteachers and school leaders should continue to follow existing policies and protocols in the event of being presented with any examples of homophobic communication/ hate crime activity.