Legal Update: Relationships and sex education


"Age-appropriate" relationships and sex education is to become part of the national curriculum in primary and secondary schools.

During the passage of the Children and Social Work Bill, the government tabled an amendment to make "age-appropriate" sex and relationships education (SRE) part of the national curriculum in primary and secondary schools. Ministers had faced mounting pressure to bring about the change following concerns that children are being left ill-equipped to cope with the new realities of online porn, cyber-bullying and sexting.

SRE involves teaching children about reproduction, sexuality and sexual health. It does not promote early sexual activity or any particular sexual orientation.

The current statutory provisions on sex education are contained in sections 403 and 405 of the Education Act 1996. Local authority maintained schools in England are obliged to teach SRE from age 11 upwards, and must have regard to the statutory Sex and Relationship Education Guidance, published in 2000. Academies and free schools do not have to follow the national curriculum and so are not under this obligation. If they do decide to teach SRE, they also must have regard to the guidance.

All schools must have a written policy on sex education, and make this available to parents for free. Section 405 of the Education Act 1996 enables parents to withdraw their children from sex education other than that which is in the national curriculum (such as the biological aspects of human growth and reproduction that are essential elements of national curriculum science).

In March 2017, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced her intention to put "Relationships and Sex Education" (RSE rather than SRE, highlighting the emphasis in the new subject on relationships) on a statutory footing. She also announced her intention to create a power to make personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) statutory in future, following further work and consultation. Section 34 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 provides for RSE to be taught in all schools in England and it is intended that teaching of reformed RSE will start in September 2019. Following consultation, the RSE regulations will cover:

  • All primary schools in England teaching "relationships education"
  • All primary schools in England teaching "relationships education"
  • Reformed statutory guidance, following consultation
  • Retaining the parental right of withdrawal from sex education
  • Flexibility for schools in their approach, including for faith schools to teach within the tenets of their faith.

In light of these forthcoming changes, Coram Life Education (CLE) has begun a new relationships education programme, informed by recent research, which found that two thirds of schools say they need more guidance on statutory requirements and one in three primary schools need more help with identifying children's needs.

The new relationships education programme will comprise lesson plans, activities and teacher and parent guidance, aligned with recommended content set by the Department for Education. This will help schools prepare for when RSE becomes statutory in all primary and secondary schools from 2019. It will be available this year to 200,000 children nationally at schools already working with Coram and will be accessible to all schools by means of the new CLE direct platform, SCARF, from 1 September.

The Department for Education intends to conduct thorough and wide-ranging engagement on issues including subject content, school practice and quality of delivery - to determine the content of the regulations and statutory guidance, with a consultation expected this autumn.

For more information on Coram's new programme, go towww.coramlifeeducation.org.uk

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