All secondary schools in England will teach relationships and sex education (RSE), the government has announced.
The government has tabled amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill which will make it a requirement that all secondary schools in England teach RSE.
In addition, personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) will be taught in all primary and secondary schools in England.
Education Secretary Justine Greening said: “RSE and PSHE teach children and young people how to stay safe and healthy, and how to negotiate some of the personal and social challenges they will face growing up and as adults. These subjects form part of the building blocks young people need to thrive in modern Britain. At the moment, too many young people feel they don’t have the RSE they need to stay safe and navigate becoming an adult.
“It is time to make this change to ensure all children and young people have access to these subjects and to update the current statutory guidance for RSE which was introduced nearly 20 years ago, in 2000. We need high-quality, age-appropriate content that relates to the modern world, addressing issues like cyber bullying, ‘sexting’ and internet safety.
“We will now begin a review and gather expert opinions to ensure these subjects really have a positive impact on young people,” she added.
Relationships education, RSE, and PSHE are designed to ensure pupils are taught the knowledge and life skills they will need to stay safe and develop healthy and supportive relationships, particularly dealing with the challenges of growing up in an online world.
Currently only pupils attending local-authority run secondary schools - which represent around a third of secondary schools - are guaranteed to be offered current sex and relationships education, and PSHE is only mandatory at independent schools.
The government is proposing the introduction of the new subject of ‘relationships education’ in primary school and renaming the secondary school subject ‘relationships and sex education’, to emphasise the central importance of healthy relationships. The focus in primary school will be on building healthy relationships and staying safe. As children get older, it is important that they start to develop their understanding of healthy adult relationships in more depth, with sex education delivered in that context.
The amendments will continue to allow parents a right to withdraw children from sex education, and schools will be required to publish a clear statement of their policy and what will be taught, so that parents can make informed decisions. As is already the case where sex education is currently mandatory, schools will also have flexibility over how they teach these subjects so they can ensure their approach is sensitive to the needs of the local community and, in the case of faith schools, in accordance with the tenets of their faith.
Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “NAHT have long advocated age-appropriate sex education and PSHE 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 will face beyond the school gates. We welcome the duties set out today and look forward to playing our part in ensuring RSE/PSHE delivers for young people.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan, said: “We are thrilled the government has listened to our campaign to provide all school children with age-appropriate school lessons on sex and healthy relationships to help keep them safe. Barnardo’s has long campaigned for this vital education so children can better understand the dangers in the real world and online. We believe this will give children the knowledge and skills they need to help prevent them being groomed and sexually exploited.
Natika H Halil, Chief Executive of FPA said: “Statutory status, from primary school, is an incredibly positive step forward in ensuring that all children and young people are able to benefit from good relationships and sex education.
“The benefits of RSE have been demonstrated on multiple occasions, through academic research, Select Committee inquiries and by the testimonies we hear from young people and parents themselves. This decision by Justine Greening will contribute to keeping young people safe from harm and help to promote the attitudes, skills and knowledge young people need to have open, honest and fulfilling relationships in the future."