This week, the Government, released long overdue and much needed guidance on what schools should teach in relationships education in primary schools, relationships and sex education (RSE) in secondary and health education in both primary and secondary schools.  The last time RSE was updated was in 2000 – almost 20 years ago.  

We know that RSE is a key means to achieve this and tackle some of the major issues facing our schools today - including bullying and harassment, staying safe online and raising greater awareness of mental health and wellbeing.  The NEU believes this guidance is a welcome step forward to address these needs and to better reflect the complexity of children and young people’s lives today. There is still work to do but here are a few key reasons why we think it will make a difference - 

1. RSE will be LGBT+ inclusive

The new guidance is clear that from 2020 all schools will need to include LGBT+ content in their RSE programme.  In primary schools this may involve talking about LGBT+ families. In secondary, schools will have to teach about sexual orientation and gender identity.  The guidance states that schools will be ‘free to determine’ how they cover LGBT+ content and when.  We would like this to be strengthened in the future and we will keep working with schools to ensure they are confident that they can and should include teaching about LGBT+ families in primary schools.

2. More education on menstrual health

The guidance sets out how RSE should be age and developmentally appropriate, including meeting the needs of SEND students, and should help to prepare young people in advance of the changes they will experience. A key example of the latter, is the inclusion that all pupils in primary school will learn about menstrual wellbeing and that menstruation should be covered, as much as possible, before onset. This is something the NEU called for and we are pleased to see the inclusion of this content as a key learning outcome in health education at the end of primary school.

3. Support for schools to tackle sexism and sexual harassment

In our report “It’s Just Everywhere” we found that over a third of girls had experienced sexual harassment at school.  A key recommendation we made to the DfE is that RSE should be designed to prevent sexism and sexual harassment.  We believe that the guidance makes progress to meet this demand.  The guidance writes 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.’ In primary schools, children will learn about how stereotypes can be unfair as well as the importance of permission-seeking and giving in relationships. In secondary, children will learn about sexual consent, sexual exploitation, abuse, grooming, coercion, harassment, rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage and honour-based violence. There will also be a greater focus on children and young people learning about FGM and the law.

4. New requirements to teach about mental health and the harms of social media

Other positives include the introduction of statutory heath education to support schools to teach about mental health and wellbeing.  There is also content on the harms of spending too much time online, in light of the recommendations made by the UK’s chief medical officers on children’s screen time. We know that increased time on social media can be linked to poorer mental wellbeing amongst children and young people and so we welcome the greater focus on this aspect of young people’s lives, including content on how young people can stay safe online and report online abuse. 

What next?

However much the guidance presents an opportunity to improve RSE, our next step must be to ensure schools have access to the right support, resources and guidance to ensure high quality and age-appropriate RSE reaches all children and young people.

The DfE have announced that there will be a 6 million budget in 2019/20 for a school support package to cover training and resources. The department will also offer training – either online or face-to-face – for teachers who might need it.

The NEU are concerned that this training package may not be sufficient to meet school needs.  Training cannot just be online, it needs to be supported by face to face professional development where teachers can learn from each other.  Training will be particularly key for the new curricula areas covered in the guidance.

In a survey with members last year, just 28% respondents said that they felt confident that their school will be ready to deliver the new RSE in September 2019. We need to ensure schools are given the best head start so that they are able to deliver these new subjects in time for 2020 when the new guidance becomes statutory.  

Further support

In April the NEU will be launching a new resource - AGENDA - to help teachers and young people to address sexism, sexual harassment and gender inequality in school. To find out more please contact sally.thomas@neu.org.uk

We are also running a number of training programmes to support schools to get ready for statutory RSE. 

Finally, check out the Sex Education Forum’s training and events. The Sex Education Forum are offering NEU members discount for their RSE conference for the Independent sector and for their conference on how your RSE can be SEND inclusive.