Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) is changing in England.
This guide outlines the key changes to Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) for schools in England.
It guidance highlights what the key statutory changes are, what this means for schools and what the NEU believes to be key principles to delivering holistic, inclusive, empowering and needs-led RSE. It also contains frequently asked questions on Relationships Education and/or RSE and signposts to further resources and tools to support teachers and education professionals
These subjects are vitally important to ensure that children can grow up safe, happy and healthy. The NEU believes that the new RSE guidance is an important step forward to better reflect children and young people’s needs.
We are working with Government to get the right support for schools to implement these important changes from September 2020.
Contact your local district/ branch about getting involved in local activities to promote inclusive RSE, including how to get involved in local equality networks
The new legal requirements
Under sections 34 & 35 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 Act, all primary schools (maintained, non-maintained and independent schools) in England will be expected to deliver Relationships Education from September 2020. It is not a statutory requirement for primary schools to teach sex education but the Department for Education (DfE) recommends that ‘all primary schools should have a sex education programme tailored to the age and the physical and emotional maturity of the pupils’. The NEU recommends that all primary schools teach sex education.
All secondary schools (maintained, non-maintained or independent) in England will be expected to deliver Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) from 2020.
In addition to these changes, all schools, except independent schools, must teach Health Education. Although independent schools do not have to teach the new Health Education curriculum, they do have a statutory duty to teach PSHE under the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014.
The statutory requirements do not apply to sixth form colleges, 16-19 academies or Further Education (FE) colleges, although the DfE and the NEU encourages all education providers to support students by offering these subjects.
Overview of the new guidance
In June 2019 the Government finalised the new Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education guidance. All schools must have ‘regard’ to the guidance when teaching these subjects.
The new guidance sets out what core content should be delivered by the end of primary and secondary education. It does not say what content should be delivered by year or key stage. This gives flexibility to schools over what curriculum content should be taught when. It includes key advice on how schools should ensure the curriculum is taking into account the religious background of pupils and how to be inclusive of SEND and LGBT+ pupils. There is also a section on how RSE links to schools’ obligations under the Equality Act 2010.
Did you know?
The new guidance states that ‘schools should be alive to issues such as everyday sexism, misogyny, homophobia and gender stereotypes and take positive action to build a culture where these are not tolerated’ (DfE guidance, p14)
The guidance is organised around key themes. For Relationships Education the themes are:
- families and people who care for me;
- caring friendships;
- respectful relationships;
- online relationships;
- being safe.
For RSE in secondary education, this curriculum content is built upon and new content is introduced on sexual relationships, including sexual health. The core themes are:
- respectful relationships, including friendships;
- online and media;
- being safe;
- intimate and sexual relationships, including sexual health.
Puberty and the changing adolescent body is now taught through the new statutory Health Education curriculum. Primary and secondary schools are expected to deliver this content. The guidance states that Health Education should cover the key facts about puberty and the changing adolescent body, particularly from age nine to age 11, including physical and emotional changes.
Primary schools are expected to teach about menstrual wellbeing in Health Education, including the key facts about the menstrual cycle. It is advised that puberty, including menstruation, should be addressed before onset. This highlights the importance of delivering this information in a timely way that prepares children for the changes they will experience.
The content covered in Health Education may overlap with some of the content taught through Relationships Education, RSE and the science curriculum as well as other subjects, so this will reinforce content and concepts for students. For instance, the national curriculum for science in key stage 2 includes learning about the changes to the human body as we develop to old age. Pupils should also learn about the names of the main body parts and reproduction in some plants and animals.
To help you to prepare and plan for delivering these subjects by September 2020, you can take a look at this roadmap to statutory RSE.
The Sex Education Forum also has an interactive digital tool to support you to look at your RSE provision in your school (this is free for members).
For more information on how the guidance relates to LGBT+ inclusion specifically please see LGBT+ Inclusive Education: Guidance for members
Updating your school policy
From September 2020 schools in England will need to update their existing Relationships Education or RSE policy to meet the new requirements. The law requires schools to consult parents in developing and reviewing their Relationships Education or RSE policy. The NEU also recommends consulting with pupils to get their feedback on the Relationships Education/ RSE taught. The final policy should be agreed by governors and staff.
The policy should be made available to parents and the school. Schools must provide a copy of the policy free of charge to anyone who asks for it and should publish the policy on their school website.
The DfE guidance states that a policy must include:
- A definition of Relationships Education (primary) or RSE (secondary);
- A definition of sex education if a primary school chooses to teach sex education beyond what is covered in the science curriculum;
- Information on the subject content, including how it is taught and who is responsible for teaching it;
- Information on how the subject is monitored and evaluated;
- Information on the parental right to withdraw their child (this will be different for primary and secondary settings. See p17 of the DfE guidance)
- The date by which the policy will be reviewed.
Key principles for teaching Relationships Education and RSE
The NEU endorses the following 12 key principles outlined by the Sex Education Forum.
The NEU believes all Relationships Education and RSE should be LGBT+ inclusive, promote gender equality and actively challenge all forms of abuse and discrimination. It needs to reflect and celebrate a diversity of cultures, faiths and family types and support children and young people to be their unique and authentic selves. For further information on LGBT+ inclusive education please see our guidance for members.
Research shows that good RSE is best delivered through Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education curriculum with planned, timetabled lessons across all key stages. It should also be taught by trained staff who have access to face-to-face training, CPD and high-quality curriculum resources. Ensuring teachers have access to a package of support is key to ensuring quality learning outcomes and for enabling staff to feel confident in teaching the new curriculum.
It is important to use creative pedagogy and student voice to ensure that Relationships Education and RSE is relevant and empowering for children and young people.
Lastly, a whole school approach should be used to support what is taught in Relationships Education or RSE. This means embedding learning throughout the curriculum and outside of the classroom. For inspiration on ideas you could use AGENDA, a tool for making positive relationships matter. This tool is endorsed by the NEU.
A whole school approach also includes engaging with parents/carers to ensure that learning can continue in the home. We believe that the successful teaching of RSE involves parents/ carers and schools working together. For more information on ways to engage with parents please take a look at our guidance on LGBT+ inclusive education for heads, senior leaders, PSHE and safeguarding leads.
You can also visit Parentkind, which has a range of resources for how to engage with parents/ carers.
- I need more training. What should I do?
/media/7651/viewThe DfE has committed £6 million to supporting schools to deliver these new subjects. Part of this money will be spent on ensuring schools have access to face-to-face training. Training has not yet been rolled out to schools but should be available from 2020. Visit the DfE’s website to find out more.
There are also opportunities to get training through the NEU. Find out who is your local learning and development rep and see if they can support you to organise training in your area.
There are also a range of specialist organisations that provide training. The PSHE Association and the Sex Education Forum are good places to start to find out what’s available.
- How do I engage with parents/carers on RSE?
For information on general principles on how to engage effectively with parents/carers, please see Parentkind.
The DfE have produced guidance specifically on parental engagement guide on Relationships Education (for primary schools only).
From September 2020, all schools must consult with parents/carers about their Relationships Education or RSE policy. Engagement could happen in various different ways – from texts, emails and phone calls to organising meetings.
Once your school has consulted with parents/ carers it should consider the views expressed and balance them with the needs of pupils and existing legislative requirements.
For information on how to engage parents/ carers on LGBT+ inclusion the NEU has produced these tips for heads, senior leaders, PSHE and safeguarding leads.
- What do I do if a parent has concerns about the curriculum and/or wants to withdraw their child from sex education?
Follow your school policy and procedures about who would be the right person to engage with the parent/carer concerned. A conversation should involve explaining exactly what is taught and the benefits of Relationships Education/ RSE. Crucially, this is the opportunity to try to allay any concerns or misconceptions about the subject.
If the parent wants to withdraw their child, the law is different depending on whether their child is in primary or secondary school.
In primary school, head teachers are required to automatically grant a request to withdraw a pupil from any sex education delivered, other than as part of the statutory science or Health Education curriculum.
In secondary schools, headteachers are required to respect the parents’ request to withdraw their child until three terms before the child turns 16. All children have a right to receive sex education at this point if they wish. There may be exceptional circumstances when a request to remove a child is not granted based on the child’s specific learning needs. For more information, please see p17 of the Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education Guidance.
- What does the new RSE guidance say about LGBT+ inclusion in Relationships Education/ RSE?
The RSE guidance states that all schools should teach their pupils about LGBT+ people when they consider it appropriate to do so. The NEU believes it is appropriate to do so in every school and that Relationships Education and RSE should be LGBT+ inclusive at every key stage.
The DfE has said that they will support any school, having engaged with parents and listened to their views, that takes reasonable decisions on their Relationships Education curriculum, including the teaching of topics sensitive to their parents. For more information about LGBT+ inclusion in education, including in RSE, please see our LGBT+ Guidance for members.
- Do parents have a right to veto what the school is teaching on Relationships Education/RSE?
No. The DfE has clearly stated that parents’/ carers’ views do not amount to a veto over curriculum content and that ultimately it is for schools to decide their curriculum once they have taken these views on board.
- There is misinformation about Relationships Education/RSE being circulated. How do I challenge this?
It is important to actively counter the misinformation; don’t ignore it. There is a lot of misinformation in circulation and anti-RSE groups are targeting faith communities. Make sure the responsible staff member(s) (this may be you!) are sharing curriculum resources with parents and carers for them to be able to understand what is (and isn’t) being taught, as well as the reasons why. There are lots of different ways to engage with parents/ carers to communicate information effectively – decide what is best for your school.
The following documents are available to help your school communicate with parents on what these subjects cover:
- What if misinformation becomes anti-RSE or anti-LGBT+ inclusion?
If misinformation starts to become information that is anti-RSE or anti-LGBT+ inclusion, we advise that you work with the relevant people in your school, including your union rep and school governors. You should also contact your local NEU district/branch or regional office and local authority to get further support.
Whether you are in a multi-academy trust or a maintained school, the local authority (LA) should be made aware of the issue as they have responsibilities for safeguarding children as well as admissions and home schooling that could be impacted if parents decide to remove their child from the school.
For more information please see LGBT+ inclusion: guidance for reps and officers.
- What do I do if there is significant parental discontent with our school’s Relationships Education/ RSE programme?
There may be some parents who do not agree with what your school is teaching in Relationships Education/RSE, even after the school has engaged with them. In the first instance, we recommend advising the individuals to follow the school’s standard complaints procedures.
However, if there is widespread and/or organised parental opposition to the curricula, we advise that you work with the relevant people in your school, including your union rep and school governors, and contact your local NEU district/ branch or regional office and local authority to get further support. Schools should seek a borough/academy-trust wide approach to the issue to safeguard your school and your staff.
The DfE’s guidance on RSE states that it will ‘back any school that, having engaged with parents and listened to their views, takes reasonable decisions on their Relationships Education curriculum, including the teaching of topics sensitive to their parents’.
- My school isn’t giving the necessary curriculum time to Relationships Education/ RSE. What can I do?
We know that Government education policy is narrowing the curriculum and may impact on the time available to teach Relationships Education or RSE in your school.
We recommend a collective approach to tackling this issue. Talk to your school rep/union group and see if other staff feel similarly, and if not, try to get other staff on side. Then make the case to your head for why Relationships Education/ RSE is important and needs to be given more space within the curriculum and outside of the classroom. You can explain that Relationships Education/RSE supports schools to meet a range of statutory duties including the following:
The Education Act 2002/ Academies Act 2010: All schools must provide a broad and balanced curriculum. Relationships Education and RSE contributes to these aims by ensuring that children and young people understand how to stay safe, develop healthy, happy relationships and learn about the world around them.
The Equality Act 2010: A core part of Relationships Education and RSE is the promotion of equality, inclusion and social justice. It helps pupils learn how to treat each other with kindness and respect and learn that stereotypes and bullying and all forms of prejudice and discrimination are harmful and wrong.
Education Inspections Act 2006, Section 89: This requires all maintained schools to have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. RSE should cover all types of bullying, including cyberbullying, in primary and secondary schools.
The Education Inspection Framework 2019: Inspectors will make a judgement on the personal development of learners, including the extent to which the curriculum extends beyond the academic and how curriculum areas such as Personal, Social, Health and Economic education, and Relationship and Sex Education, contribute to pupils’ personal development.
Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) guidance: All schools must have regard to KCSIE in order to properly safeguard and promote the welfare of children. In a recent survey, 75% of our members said they thought RSE helped to instil a safeguarding culture in their school. For example, in primary schools, pupils learn how to recognise and report feelings of being unsafe, how to report concerns or abuse, and the vocabulary and confidence needed to do so. Part 5 of KCSIE also includes a section on childon-child sexual harassment and sexual violence. Relationships Education and RSE should help your school to teach young people about sexism, sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence.
You can also cite the DfE’s guidance on RSE: ‘Effective teaching in these subjects will ensure that core knowledge is broken down into units of manageable size and communicated clearly to pupils, in a carefully sequenced way, within a planned programme or lessons. This implies that schools should not simply deliver Relationships Education or RSE through a drop-down day.
For further evidence on the benefits of RSE see the Sex Education Forum.
- How should I work with external visitors?
The Sex Education Forum has produced guidance on how schools can work with external visitors and the key things to consider.
- How do I create a safe space in my Relationships Education/RSE lessons?
Set rights respecting ground rules at the start of your Relationships Education/RSE classes. You can get inspiration for how to do this from AGENDA, which has easy-to-use tools to get started. Creative activities your school could do also include creating a DIY Support Cloud.
Anonymous comments boxes or ‘ask-it baskets’ can be used for tricky or embarrassing questions from children who don’t want to be identified.
Children and young people will have creative ideas for what might make a good ‘time-out’ reflection space or activity.
Teachers should never be expected to disclose personal or sensitive information about themselves. A safe space should cover both staff and students when delivering RSE.
- What about Health Education?
This NEU guidance has prioritised looking at the changes to Relationships Education and RSE, but schools will also need to consider the new Health Education curriculum. This curriculum supplements what is taught in RSE (good sexual health is connected to good physical and mental health).
Many schools that teach PSHE will already cover the curricula areas included in RSE and Health Education. Key issues taught under Health Education are mental wellbeing, internet safety and harms, physical health and fitness, healthy eating, drugs, alcohol and tobacco, health and prevention, basic first aid and the changing adolescent body (puberty).
- What is meant by a gender equity and human rights approach to RSE?
International research highlights that the most effective RSE programmes are those that have a human rights and gender-based approach.
This approach means creating a learning environment that enables children and young people to explore the impact of uneven power relations in society and the patterns that lead to gender inequality. UNESCO International guidance states that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) ‘builds on and promotes an understanding of universal human rights – including the rights of children and young people – and the rights of all persons to health, education, information equality and non-discrimination’.
The UNESCO guidance also describes how RSE can advance gender equality through addressing ‘the different ways that gender norms can influence inequality, and how these inequalities can affect the overall health and wellbeing of children and young people, while also impacting efforts to prevent issues such as HIV, STIs, early and unintended pregnancies, and gender-based violence[…] The integration of a gender perspective throughout CSE curricula is integral to the effectiveness of CSE programmes.
A gender equity and human rights approach was also used in this expert review of RSE in Wales.
The NEU has developed or endorsed a range of resources that can be used to develop your Relationships Education/RSE. These include:
- AGENDA (how to make positive relationships matter in Primary and Secondary)
- Breaking the Mould (tackling gender stereotypes in Early Years and Primary)
- Every Child. Every Family (guide on LGBT+ inclusive literature for Early Years and Primary)
- Sexism in Schools report (research report on the prevalence on sexism in schools in Secondary and how we tackle it)
- DO… (RSE resource for Secondary)
Resources from other organisations
There are lots of resources available to support the teaching of RSE. As a starting point, we recommend visiting subject specialist organisations such as the Sex Education Forum and the PSHE Association. Both these organisations provide a range of practical information, resources and training and can signpost you to other originations that provide quality-assured resources.
UNESCO has produced International technical guidance on sexuality education that covers international best practice in delivering RSE.
The DfE are in the process of quality-assuring a range of resources to support schools with the delivery of RSE. You can find a list of resources and relevant organisations in Annex B of the Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education Guidance.