Relationships and Sex Education

Thank you for contacting me about Relationships and Sex Education (RSE).

We all want our children to grow up into happy and well-rounded individuals who know how to deal with the challenges of the modern world.  That is why from September 2020, Relationships Education will become compulsory in all primary schools in England and RSE compulsory in all secondary schools and Health Education will become compulsory in all state-funded schools. These subjects are designed to ensure pupils are taught the knowledge and life skills they will need to stay safe, build confidence and resilience, and develop healthy and supportive relationships.

Under the updated guidance, teachers will talk to primary school pupils in an age appropriate way about the features of healthy friendships, family relationships and other relationships they may encounter.

At secondary school teachers will build on this foundation and, at an appropriate time, extend teaching to include intimate relationships. Health education will ensure pupils are taught about the benefits of healthy eating, exercise and keeping fit, as well as developing qualities such as resilience, self-respect, mental wellbeing and manners. Importantly, it will also teach children and young people how to recognise when they and others are struggling with mental health.

The Department for Education sought views from parents, teachers, children and other key groups to develop subject content and has used this feedback to produce the final guidance, which has been subject to further consultation. I am pleased that action is being taken to ensure our children and young people leave school knowing how to keep themselves safe and healthy and have good relationships with others. 

The reason why the parental right to withdraw as it currently stands could not be retained is that an absolute parental right up to 18 years old is no longer compatible with English case law or the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the ability for parents to request that their child be withdrawn from sex education has been retained. Parents will have a right to request that their child be withdrawn from sex education delivered as part of RSE until three terms before the child becomes 16-years-old. At that point, if the child wishes to be taught sex education, the headteacher should ensure they receive it in one of those terms. These parental requests should, unless there are exceptional circumstances, be respected. Where a primary school chooses to teach sex education, parents will have a right to request that their child be withdrawn, and this must be granted by the headteacher.

Primary schools

It is important to make sure that our young people have the right information and right advice, and that what we teach them reflects the world that children live in today. I am encouraged that proposals will introduce a new subject, ‘relationships education’, to primary schools that will teach young children about healthy relationships and staying safe. Relationships education content should remain age appropriate and the Department for Education has worked with key groups to develop age-appropriate subject content.

RSE in Faith schools

I want to assure you that in all schools, when Relationships Education and Relationships & Sex Education is taught, the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching, so that the topics that are included in the core content are appropriately handled. Indeed, all schools may teach about faith perspectives. In particular, schools with a religious character can build on the core content by reflecting their beliefs in their teaching. For example, the school may wish to reflect on faith teachings about certain topics relating to relationships as well as how their faith institutions may support people in matters of relationships and sex.

Curriculum Content & When It is Taught

Schools will be required to consult with parents when developing and reviewing their policies for Relationships Education and RSE, which will inform schools’ decisions on when and how certain content is covered. Effective consultation gives the space and time for parents to input, ask questions, share concerns and for the school to decide the way forward. Schools will listen to parents' views, and then make a reasonable decision as to how they wish to proceed. What is taught, and how, is ultimately a decision for the school and consultation does not provide a parental veto on curriculum content.