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
We believe all young people have the right to access high quality, age appropriate and LGBT-inclusive RSE in all schools.
Following the passing of the Children and Social Work Act (2017), all secondary schools in England will be required to teach RSE and primary schools to teach relationships education as of September 2020. This has been a delay of 12 months from the initial implementation date of 2019.
In July 2018, the Department for Education published updated draft guidance for RSE lessons alongside a consultation that closed in November 2018. There were 40,000 responses to that consultation, including our own, where we welcomed compulsory RSE and RE but highlighted our concerns with the Government’s proposals.
In February 2019, the Government laid down the new updated regulations for RSE in Parliament. We're broadly in support of these, although we have some minor concerns about how the regulations and guidance will work in practice.
In March 2019, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly 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 from September 2020.
This means all primary schools in England will be required to teach Relationships Education, all secondary schools in England will be required to teach Relationships and Sex Education, and all schools in England will be required to teach Health Education.
The Government continues to recommend that primary schools deliver Sex Education (although this is not compulsory).
All schools will be required to teach in accordance with the new guidance and regulations for these subjects. The new guidance is the first to be published since its predecessor in 2000.
Schools can begin teaching these statutory subjects in accordance with the new guidance before September 2020, if they wish.
Schools will also be required to have an up-to-date policy statement for teaching Relationships Education/Relationships and Sex Education that is available to parents and carers.
The situation now and going forward
Schools have been invited to sign up as ‘early adopters’ to follow the guidance from September 2019 if they are ready. These schools are likely to have good RSE provision already – though support will help them to excel.
It is unclear what, if any, resource will be available for schools that do not adopt early. In these schools, the journey to high-quality RSE may need more intensive support. When the Sex Education Forum (SEF) surveyed 240 teachers of RSE in 2019, they found that 29% had never received any training in the subject. That’s a lot of teachers needing to access training on topics such as the harms of explicit content, pregnancy choices, LGBT relationships and mental health.
To embed the RSE reforms effectively and reach children in every school in England, we (Stonewall, SEF and Terrence Higgins Trust) are calling on the Treasury to commit an uplift of funding for the implementation and training of RSE education.
A total of £177 million was invested by Government in maths in 2017-18, but RSE, Relationships Education and Health Education are new subjects and need to be taught by teachers with knowledge in the subject, so that information ranging from STIs and fertility to FGM and emotional well-being is factually correct.
The primary element of RSE is called Relationships Education, which is compulsory and has no parental right to withdrawal. This is due to safeguarding and the need for nurturing awareness of different relationships.
The Department of Education published the statutory guidance on Thursday 25 July 2019.
The Government have stuck by their guidance on LGBT lessons in schools. The Secretary of State for Education said that he strongly encourages primary schools to discuss with pupils how there are different, strong and loving families, including families with same-sex parents.
The statement by the Secretary of State is a clear signal to schools when it comes to talking to pupils about the different kinds of families and relationships they may encounter in their lives.
On sexual health, each pupil should know the following before they leave school:
- How sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV and AIDs, are transmitted.
- How the risk of transmission can be reduced through safer sex (including through condom use).
- The importance of and facts about testing for STIs.
- The prevalence of some STIs, the impact they can have on those who contract them and key facts about treatment.
The secondary element of RSE is also compulsory, but parents are able to withdraw their parents up to three terms before they turn 16.
The guidance states, at secondary level, ‘before granting any such request it is good practice for the head teacher to discuss the request with parents’ – including ‘discussing with parents the benefits of receiving this important education and any detrimental effects that withdrawal might have on the child. This could include any social and emotional effects of being excluded, as well as the likelihood of the child hearing their peers’ version of what was said in classes’.
Following those conversations, except in exceptional circumstances, the parents/carers’ request should be granted.
At primary level, head teachers will be required to automatically grant any request to withdraw a pupil from sex education, apart from teaching in the science curriculum.
Schools can explain their position on, for example, being LGBT but then must explain clearly the facts about what is legal in this country, e.g. LGBT relationships, marriage and adoption.
However, there is still a lot more to do to ensure RSE is fully inclusive and schools get the funding, support and materials they need to teach high-quality RSE.
Key priorities going forward
- The need for sufficient funding for training and resources, including comprehensive face-to-face training, support to build schools’ confidence regarding parental engagement, and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) and LGBT-inclusive resources.
- Will the £6 million funding package only be for early adopters?
- Concerns about Department for Education starting to say ‘up to £6 million’.
- Concerns that loopholes in guidance are creating issues for schools and creating risk of further protest and parental withdrawal.
- Concerns that some faith schools are championing pupil withdrawal.
- Concerns that these protests become the dominant focus of implementation coverage in the media; that this is fuelling a narrative of faith versus LGBT; and that giving protests airtime is exactly what their organisers want.
- Specific concern that parents of pupils with SEND could be more susceptible to fears about RSE.
- Local government: the need to support local authorities to support schools with RSE implementation and parental engagement.
- Monitoring: concerns about how effectively Ofsted will be able to monitor implementation.
- Safeguarding: concerns that teachers won’t be prepared for likely increase in safeguarding disclosures post-implementation.
- Timetabling: will schools be able to find time in their timetables to deliver these 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.