After an almost 40-year-long campaign by Terrence Higgins Trust, in March 2019, MPs finally backed plans for compulsory, LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education lessons.
How did we get here?
In 2016 we surveyed almost 1,000 young people which culminated in a report on LGBT-inclusive RSE published in 2017, which you can download below.
Young people want RSE but they aren’t always getting it. Our research shows that one in seven did not receive any RSE in school at all.
The quality of RSE varies across Britain, with LGBT issues still not consistently taught as part of RSE.
In England, RSE is only compulsory in maintained secondary schools, but the subject is due to become compulsory in all schools from September 2020.
The government has missed its original target of September 2019 for compulsory RSE lessons in England, with a 12-month delay. We are unequivocal that this timeline must not slip any further and we are following the passage of RSE as it goes through to the Lords some time between April and July 2019.
In Wales, RSE will be a statutory part of the new curriculum, which is being developed and due to be in place across Wales by 2022. For learners under the current curriculum, there will be enhanced provision from 2018, with work to identify learning needs and refresh existing guidance taking place this summer.
In Scotland, RSE is taught through Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education (RSHP) but is not compulsory. The Scottish Government is currently conducting a review of RSHP.
We have been campaigning for higher quality relationships and sex education for many years.
Our Shhh… No Talking report, published in July 2016, detailed the experiences of RSE lessons from over 900 young people aged 16-25 across Britain. The report highlighted the inadequate or non-existent provision in many schools.
The report’s main findings included:
- 99% of young people surveyed thought RSE should be mandatory in all schools.
- 97% thought it should be LGBT-inclusive.
- One in seven respondents had not received any RSE at all.
- Over half (61%) received RSE just once a year or less.
- Half of young people rated the RSE they received in school as either ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’.
- Just 2% rated it as ‘excellent’ and only 10% rated it as ‘good’.
- 95% were not taught about LGBT relationships.
Meanwhile, several key topics were absent from respondents’ experiences of RSE:
- 75% of young people were not taught about consent
- 95% had not learned about LGBT sex and relationships
- 89% were not taught about sex and pleasure
- 97% missed out on any discussion around gender identity.
When it came to learning about HIV, three out of five respondents either did not receive any information about HIV or did not remember receiving information about HIV in school.
RSE in England
In March 2017, we achieved our first win when the UK Government announced that RSE would become compulsory in all schools in England by September 2019. This includes primary, secondary, academy, state-maintained, free school and private schools.
However, the Government missed its own target and there is now a 12-month delay, so schools in England will only have compulsory RSE by autumn 2020. We are unequivocal that this timeline must not slip any further.
In March 2019, the House of Commons voted overwhelming in support of replacing existing RSE guidance and regulations from the year 2000 that is still used in schools. The House of Lords confirmed this vote and in April 2019 the final hurdle was over and RSE will become mandatory in all schools as of September 2020.
Despite this, our work is far from over. We will continue to work with the Government, Peers, decision makers, civil servants, charity sector colleagues and young people to ensure the following key points are delivered:
- Lessons are genuinely LGBT-inclusive.
- Up-to-date information on HIV and sexual health form a core part of the curriculum.
- Clear inspection criteria for Ofsted when evaluating the quality of lessons.
- Opportunities for teachers to receive training and continual professional development courses so that they can be confident when delivering lessons.
See below for our consultation responses to the Department for Education.
RSE in Wales
In December 2017 an expert panel chaired by Professor Emma Renold, Professor of Childhood Studies at Cardiff University, published its report The Future of the Sex and Relationships Education Curriculum in Wales. This contained 11 recommendations, including that SRE be made a statutory part of the new curriculum for all schools in Wales under the revised name of Sexuality and Relationships Education, and specialised SRE teacher training to be introduced with clear career progression routes.
The findings of the SRE expert panel’s report reflected many of our concerns about the content and delivery of RSE to date: it is inconsistent, heteronormative, often negative and too biologically focused, with little reference to matters around consent, pleasure, and the positive aspects of sex and relationships. RSE also has a low status and priority in schools, which leads to poor training and support for teachers and a lack of resources for the subject overall.
In May 2018, the Cabinet Secretary for Education announced that she would be accepting all the recommendations of the review. SRE will become Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in advance of the new curriculum being rolled out nationally in 2022, with existing guidance to be updated accordingly.
This updated guidance will be accompanied by greater support for schools on a range of topics such as education for LGBTQI+ learners, prevention of violence against women and girls, and domestic abuse. In relation to the new curriculum, the Cabinet Secretary announced £200,000 for the four education consortia in Wales to kickstart the process of identifying professional training and learning needs for RSE.
There has been a lot of progress and we are confident that SRE in Wales is heading in the right direction, but we still have a number of concerns and will be working with the Welsh Government and other stakeholders on these as the new RSE curriculum develops.
First, there are no plans to change the principle of parental right to withdraw their children from RSE lessons. This is disappointing, but we hope the rights-based principle and ‘whole school’ approach that will underpin RSE in the new curriculum (ie mainstreaming key RSE themes throughout all Areas of Learning and Experience) should go some way to addressing this.
Second, there are also no plans to change the situation with regard to faith schools, which can continue providing only RSE that is ‘consistent with their ethos’. While faith schools inWales have so far been very supportive of the new RSE proposals, we nevertheless believe that there needs to be clear guidance about what happens if a school’s ‘ethos’ conflicts with legal equalities in relation to marriage, sex, sexuality, and gender reassignment for example. There is also potential for conflicts with the rights of children and young people to impartial information with regards to sexuality and sexual health.
We will continue to engage with the Welsh Government, National Assembly members, and other partners throughout the RSE curriculum development process.
RSE in Scotland
We have contributed to research conducted by HIV Scotland looking at the teaching of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education across the 32 local authorities in Scotland.
In September 2017, HIV Scotland published its report calling for a 21st century approach to teaching HIV, including providing young people with information about HIV treatment and prevention. We continue to support the work of HIV Scotland in lobbying the Scottish Government to make the subject compulsory in all schools.
We have a history of collaboration on sex and relationship education with partners at the Sex Education Forum. You can find out more about their work on their website.