NEU Statement on certain clauses in the new Relationships, Sex and Health Education guidance (1st October)

Last week the DfE released new, non-statutory, guidance on how schools can implement the Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) curriculum this academic year. It is intended to give further practical advice and provide ‘basic principles’ for how to teach the new curriculum, alongside the statutory guidance released in June 2019. It is advisory only.

Much of the advice is helpful and will be nothing new to those already teaching high-quality RSHE. It supplements the existing statutory guidance; for instance, on how to create an inclusive classroom and the importance of supporting teacher wellbeing. However, there are several clauses that are neither necessary nor legitimate, and which require much further discussion and consideration. The expanded sections on using external agencies and choosing external resources for RSHE were added very late by Number 10 and not subject to proper consultation.

For school leaders and education staff, some of the expanded advice will be alarming and confusing. Rather than providing clear principles for how external partners can supplement RSE, we fear Number 10’s DfE's nonsensical list of prohibitions could negatively affect curriculum planning and contradict school strategies to challenge, to use just one example, racism.

Talking about the existence of prejudice and different forms of discrimination in society- and how communities have challenged power imbalances, is highly relevant for RSE and to children's education because structural inequalities limit students' life chances and affect their daily lives.

We will advise members that 'promoting divisive or victim narratives' is an intentionally unhelpful way for the DfE to characterise campaigns that advance participation and human rights, that highlight existing discrimination; or that encourage young people to discuss the barriers they face in their daily lives. Article 12 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child enshrines that every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.

Rather than empowering the profession, part of the section on external partners sows fear and doubt, making it harder for schools to engage with external organisations that are campaigning for legitimate causes and addressing some of the most pressing social issues of the day.

The NEU will advise schools to rely on the advice given in the statutory RSHE guidance that external organisations can and do play an important role, with appropriate safeguards, in bringing in specialist knowledge and engaging with young people in different ways. Schools must be supported to teach the complex and sensitive issues within RSHE, enabling young people to understand the world they live in, to form healthy rather than abusive relationships and to feel free to be themselves. Patterns such as the increase in online harms to children are serious.

Above all, this DfE advice should not be a way of smuggling in regressive ideas about what education can explore; or to penalise efforts by teachers to broaden, enrich and diversify the curriculum. The NEU will continue to work with education partners to develop resources that allow students the opportunity to explore the world around them, as it is and as it could be, so that they can play a full part in society and in our democracy, as active citizens.