Relationship and sex education (RSE)

The Department for Education has released new draft statutory guidance for the introduction of compulsory health education and relationships and sex education (RSE) planned for next year.

The Department for Education (DfE) has released new draft statutory guidance last week to accompany the introduction of compulsory health education and relationships and sex education (RSE) planned for next year.

The government announced last year that health education would be compulsory along with relationships education in all primary schools and relationships and sex education (RSE) in all secondary schools when it is rolled out in 2020.

The new statutory guidance is aimed at governing bodies, proprietors, head teachers, principals, senior leadership teams and teachers and covers a range of issues relating to physical and mental health, wellbeing, safeguarding and healthy relationships.

From our experience, young people’s awareness and understanding of sex and healthy relationships can vary quite drastically, possibly due to the inconsistencies in education on these topics delivered in schools. A robust and well thought-through curriculum to ensure young people all receive the same standard of education across these vitally important areas is critical to ensure young people are well informed and have a good understanding of issues that can have a huge impact on their lives.

The new curriculum looks set to include awareness of consent, grooming, sexuality, online safety, sexting and mental health amongst others that can all be related to child sexual exploitation, a form of child sexual abuse.

We hope these long overdue changes will help play a vital role in increasing general confidence and self-esteem and empower young people in their decision-making as they become young adults. Whilst education does not prevent sexual exploitation or abuse, raising awareness can increase young people’s confidence in talking about traditionally uncomfortable or taboo subjects. It also signposts young people to where they can find support.

Safe and Sound will be looking at the curriculum carefully, however, and we would reiterate Rachel Krys, the co-director of the End Violence Against Women coalition’s concerns in the Guardian article School lessons to cover sexting, FGM and mental health on 25 February 2019 that:

“Reports of sexual violence and harassment in schools are increasing, but the DfE’s previous plans included worrying references to ‘virtues’, and suggested children be taught about resisting or managing peer pressure,” she said.

“That is a message which can easily be interpreted as teaching girls that it is their sole responsibility to keep themselves safe, ignoring the realities of harassment and abuse.”

Another aspect that is of concern with the revised guidance, is that parents can request to opt their child out of the ‘sex education’ part of the curriculum. Whilst we acknowledge that parents and carers are the prime educators of their children, we feel this could lead to further perpetuation of this disparity in knowledge. Experience shows that young people who do not attend these sessions are likely to look elsewhere for this knowledge, often from the internet where information may be incorrect, biased or not age appropriate.

We welcome the new guidance and plans for compulsory education on healthy relationships in all schools and look forward to further guidance from the DfE regarding training and support for those delivering these sessions.

Read the draft guidance
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