Sex and relationship education in school

Local authority maintained schools in England are obliged to teach sex and relationship education (SRE) from age 11 upwards, and must have regard to the Government's SRE guidance. Academies and free schools are not under this obligation. If they do decide to teach SRE, they also must have regard to the guidance.

Formal SRE will be taught through compulsory science lessons and during other, specific lessons, often called PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education). In the early years up to the age of seven, teachers will be helping children:

  • Develop the skills of listening and caring.
  • Talk about their feelings and their relationships with their friends and family.
  • Learn the names of the body parts and how they develop and grow.
  • Learn the difference between male and female.
  • Recognise unsafe and risky situations and how to ask for help.

From seven to 18 years, and in agreement with parents, children will learn:

  • About the emotional and physical changes of puberty, reproduction and sexual behaviour.
  • About relationships - including marriage and long-term partnerships - sexuality, contraception and safer sex.
  • Social skills that will help them be assertive, ask questions, access support, negotiate within relationships, problem solve and make decisions.

All schools must provide an up-to-date policy that describes the content and organisation of SRE. The policy should be developed in consultation with pupils and parents and other professionals from the wider community.

It is essential that the governing bodies involve parents, especially parents of disabled pupils if there are children or young people with disabilities at the school, in developing and reviewing their SRE policy. If you think this isn't happening, you could try contacting the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at the school.

Does my child have to take part in these lessons?

Schools have a legal duty to teach the science curriculum, and you cannot withdraw your child from the sex education that is taught as part of science.

You do have the right to withdraw your child from other aspects of sex education. Before you exercise this right, you should give careful consideration to whether this is best for your disabled child. Schools have a duty to discuss your concerns with you and help you to decide what is best.

Preparing your child for sex and relationship education

It might be useful if you could discuss with the teacher beforehand the content of lessons and how it might affect your child. The following is a checklist of questions you might want to ask the teacher:

  • Are they aware that they have a disabled pupil in the class?
  • Do they know the nature of your child's condition and what issues may arise for them from the lesson content?
  • Will your child have an opportunity to speak with a member of staff about any concerns they may have before the lesson?
  • Is there an identified member of staff your child can approach, if they need to speak to someone, after the lesson?

You may wish to make the teacher aware of:

  • Your child's thoughts and anxieties about the lessons.
  • Your child's thoughts and anxieties about a specific area of SRE relating to their condition.
  • Any support group for your child's condition which might give them more specific information.

It may be worth asking the teacher if any particular words are to be used. If your child normally uses a different word, explain to him or her that these words refer to the same part of the body.

Following up SRE at home

For some pupils it may be necessary to have some SRE issues reinforced at home, for example:

  • The difference between 'public' and 'private' parts of the body.
  • Reproductive functions of the body.
  • Relationships and responsibility.
  • Realistic expectations/aspirations.

The following are just some of the personal and individual worries that a child might take home:

  • Sexual function - how will I be able to have sex?
  • Sexual orientation - maybe I am gay
  • Body image - will anybody want to have sex with me?
  • Future relationships - will I ever get a boy/girlfriend?
  • Getting married - will I ever get married?
  • Having children - will I be able to have children?

If you know that your child has covered a topic at school that they have found difficult or worrying, you may like to ask them how it went and whether they have any follow-up questions that they need answering. The fact that you are seen to be taking your child's worries seriously and trying to find answers will be reassuring.

All professionals working with your child, including ancillary staff, physiotherapists, nurses and care workers, as well as teachers, should follow the school's sex and relationship education policy when working with disabled pupils.

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