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Government seeks views on RSE

Following the government’s pledge to make relationship and sex education mandatory, the DfE launches consultation seeking views on updating the curriculum

Published on 4th January 2018

The government has launched a consultation asking how the provision of RSE and PSHE in schools should be updated.

Statutory guidance on sex and relationships education was last updated in 2000, making it 17 years old.

However, the Children and Social Work Act 2017 makes provisions for all primary schools, including maintained schools, academies and independent schools, to teach Relationships Education. All secondary schools will be required to teach Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) which will replace the current subject of Sex and Relationship Education.

“The Secretary of State for Education announced the government’s ambition to support all young people to stay safe and prepare for life in modern Britain by making Relationships Education (Primary), Relationships and Sex Education (RSE - Secondary) and, subject to the outcome of a thorough consideration of the subject, Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE –primary and secondary) mandatory in all schools,” said the consultation.

“This decision was taken in recognition of the fact that children need more support to navigate growing up in an increasingly complex and digital world. Whilst the internet is an overwhelmingly positive development in our lives, it does present significant challenges, particularly for young people. The dominance of social media, the prevalence of cyber-bullying and the risk that children learn about relationships from untrustworthy sources – the evidence was compelling that young people need support to make the right decisions and keep themselves safe and happy,” it adds.

It is hoped that Relationships and RSE will be age-appropriate, build knowledge and life skills over time in a way that prepares pupils for issues they will soon face. The subjects are likely to focus on issues including different types of relationships, including friendships and intimate relationships; how to recognise, understand and build healthy relationships; how to recognise unhealthy relationships, including bullying, coercion and exploitation; healthy relationships and safety online, how relationships may affect health and wellbeing, and, set firmly within the context of relationships, factual knowledge at secondary school about sex, sexual health and sexuality.

The consultation asks a number of questions including:

  • What are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why in relation to relationship education in primary, relationship and sex education in secondary and PSHE in both primary and secondary?
  • Are there important aspects of ensuring safe online relationships that would not otherwise be covered in wider Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education, or as part of the computing curriculum?
  • How should schools effectively consult parents so they can make informed decisions that meet the needs of their child, including on the right to withdraw?
  • How much flexibility do you think schools should have to meet the needs of individual pupils and to reflect the diversity of local communities and wider society in the content of PSHE lessons in schools?

“The Department for Education is looking into how we can improve these subjects and make sure pupils are getting the information they need to thrive in the modern world. Whilst we know that many schools are already teaching these subjects and in some cases doing so very well, it is important that we ensure universal coverage for all pupils and improved quality,” said the consultation.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT said: “The current guidance for RSE does need to be urgently updated but it should also be seen as part of a bigger picture.  NAHT has long advocated statutory PSHE and age-appropriate sex and relationships education, for all pupils in all schools, to help prepare young people for the challenges they will encounter in their adult lives and the current challenges they face beyond the school gates.”

A recent survey conducted by NAHT among schools showed that 91 per cent of school leaders believe PSHE should be taught in regular timetabled lessons in their school.

Just under half (49 per cent) say that PSHE and RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) do not have the same status as other subjects but over 90 per cent thought that they should.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Young people need relationships and sex education that is fit for the world they live in in the 21st century. The report we put out last week, with UK Feminista, shows how urgent this is because sexual harassment of girls is widespread, with 37% of girls in mixed-sex schools having been sexually harassed at school.

“We are calling on relationship and sex education (RSE) to be made a compulsory part of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) for all school children. Young people need to be given the knowledge and skills to challenge unacceptable and harmful behaviours and equip them to stay safe. It is not good enough to rely on parents to provide the information and advice young people need when many do not have the time or information to do so.

“For it to be effective, the government needs to invest in training for teachers so that schools are able to provide high quality RSE. It also needs to ensure schools have high quality resources and enough time in the school curriculum to teach RSE.

“Primary school children need to be given the correct names of body parts, and to learn about menstruation and puberty. RSE also needs to be fully accessible to pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), promote gender equality, and be LGBT+ inclusive.

“High quality RSE would prepare our children to have healthy relationships in adulthood, as well as tackle gender inequality and help our children to stay safe online and offline.

“We are relieved the government has finally got around to updating its 2000 guidance and will respond to the consultation," she added.

The deadline for the consultation is 12 February 2018.

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