The Government has recently conducted a consultation on Relationships and Sex Education in schools in England and produced new draft statutory guidance. It is anticipated that the new statutory guidance will apply to all independent schools with effect from 1 September 2020.
This will be compulsory for primary aged children. Relationships Education will be required to focus on the following:
- Teaching the fundamental building blocks and characteristics of positive relationships, in particular friendships, family relationships and relationships with other children and with adults. Teaching should begin from when the child starts school and continue throughout, in an age appropriate way. The features of healthy relationships should be discussed in the context of family or other relationships that children are likely to encounter. Schools will be required to consider the circumstances of their own pupils and to emphasise that many forms of family can provide a nurturing environment for children (e.g. single parent families, LGBT parents, families headed by grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents/carers among others).
- Helping children to develop self-respect and self-worth as well as other personal attributes such as honesty, integrity, courage, humility, kindness, generosity, trustworthiness and a sense of justice which will help them to build positive relationships. There should also be discussions on positive emotional and mental wellbeing and how friendships can support this.
- Teaching pupils how to recognise and report emotional, physical and sexual abuse by focussing on boundaries and privacy and ensuring that children understand that they have rights over their own bodies. There should also be discussions around online safety, what may happen to pictures they share and the ways in which websites may use other information they provide in ways that children may not expect.
Primary/preparatory schools will still be able to teach children sex education in an age appropriate way if they choose. They should consult parents in relation to this and uphold any request by a parent to withdraw their child from this aspect. There will, however, be no right for parents to withdraw their children from Relationships Education.
Relationships and Sex Education (RSE)
RSE will be compulsory for all secondary aged children, although parents will have the right to withdraw their children from the sex education aspect up to three terms before the child’s 16th birthday. At this point, if the child requests to receive sex education they must be allowed to participate. When considering a request to withdraw it will be good practice for the head teacher to discuss this with the parents and the child, including the benefits of receiving the education and any possible detriment the child may suffer (for example, feeling excluded or receiving third hand reports of the information from peers).
As for Relationships Education in schools for primary age children, secondary schools should have a policy and should consult with parents. RSE will be required to address the following:
- Build on what has been taught in Relationships Education and help young people develop healthy relationships of all kinds, not just intimate relationships. Information should be delivered in a factual and non-judgemental way, allowing young people to ask questions in a safe environment.
- Pupils should be taught the facts and law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way. Stable and healthy same-sex relationships should also be explored throughout the programme and should not be dealt with separately or in a single lesson. All schools may explore faith perspectives relating to these points but may choose do so in other subjects such as Religious Education.
- Teaching should include clear and sensitive dialogue in relation to grooming, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation (FGM), along with strategies for dealing with these and how to access support, whether for the pupil themselves or for others.
- Internet safety should be explored, including how to recognise risk, harmful content and contact and how to report issues and to whom.
The draft statutory guidance will represent a significant update to Relationships and Sex Education and schools will be need to address a wider range of topics (including an increased focus on LGBT relationships and online safety). Schools will still have flexibility in how to teach these subjects in ways which are appropriate to their pupils, having regard to their age and maturity, including any pupils with SEND. It will be important to have a policy setting out how the subjects will be taught which should be available to anyone free of charge and should be published on the school’s website. Consulting with parents, and sharing with them the resources to be used, is likely to reduce any concerns that parents may have about these subjects and will enable them to continue discussions begun in the classroom at home.
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