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Relationships and Sex Education in Schools (England)

Briefing Paper Number 06103, 1st August 2018

Author: Robert Long

Current position: What must be taught and the parental right to withdraw their children

Local authority maintained schools in England are obliged to teach sex and relationships education (SRE) from age 11 upwards, and must have regard to the Government’s SRE guidance. 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.

Parents are free to withdraw their children from SRE if they wish to do so. The only exceptions to this are the biological aspects of human growth and reproduction that are essential elements of National Curriculum Science.

From September 2020: statutory RSE

On 1 March 2017, the then Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced her intention to put ‘Relationships and Sex Education’ – rather than SRE – 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. Section 34 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 provides for relationships and sex education to be taught in all schools in England.

Following consultation, the RSE proposals are intended to be in place for teaching to start in September 2020, with schools able to begin with the relevant teaching a year earlier if they wished.

The proposals involve:

• All primary schools in England teaching ‘Relationships Education’

• All secondary schools teaching ‘Relationships and Sex Education’

• Reformed statutory guidance, following consultation

• Retaining the parental right of withdrawal from sex education, with new rights for children to ‘opt-in’ as they approach age 16

• Flexibility for schools in their approach, including for faith schools to teach within the tenets of their faith

A consultation was opened on draft regulations and draft statutory guidance to implement the changes in July 2017. The Government response a previous call for evidence on RSE was published alongside the consultation.

The announcement included the introduction of statutory health education alongside statutory RSE.

The consultation is open until 7 November 2018.

Teaching about same-sex marriage

During and following the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 there was considerable debate about the implications of the legislation for teachers whose religious beliefs led them to oppose the measure. The then Equalities Minister stated that teachers would be able to describe their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, while acknowledging that same-sex marriage will be available within the law. Reforms requiring schools to ‘actively promote’ British values have provoked further debate in this area.