Sex and relationship education in school

4 mins read

There are new requirements for relationships and sex education (RSE). These came into force in September 2020 and apply to all schools in England, both state-funded and independent. All schools must have regard to statutory guidance on RSE.

Relationships education is compulsory for all primary school children. Primary schools do not have to teach sex education though some may choose to do so.

Relationships and sex education is compulsory for all secondary school children.

Health education is compulsory in all state-funded schools, but not independent schools. Health education includes both physical health and mental wellbeing. Independent schools must still teach personal social and health education (PSHE).

In this article

What will be taught

There is no set curriculum for particular year groups, but government guidance sets out what children are expected to have learned by the end of primary or secondary school. Relationships and sex education does not have to be taught in separate lessons but can be embedded in the wider curriculum.

Primary school

Relationships education in primary school will cover:

  • family in its different forms
  • friendships
  • respectful relationships including online
  • personal space and how to keep safe.

As part of the science curriculum from year 5 upwards children will be taught about puberty and body changes.

Primary schools do not have to teach any sex education beyond this, but some schools may choose to.

Secondary school

In secondary school the topics covered in primary will be explored in greater depth and new ones introduced including

  • different legal types of relationships
  • responsibilities of parents
  • intimate sexual relationships and choice
  • pregnancy and contraception
  • protections under the Equality Act
  • bullying, sexual harassment and coercive relationships
  • more detailed info about keeping safe online including pornography.

The content will be adapted to the age and development of the children. RSE must be accessible to children with special educational needs and disabilities and differentiated and personalised where needed.

All schools must publish a policy on relationships and sex education and consult with parents when drawing up or revising the policy. It is important for parents of children and young people with SEND to be involved in this.

Does my child have to take part in these lessons?

You cannot withdraw your child from relationships education or health education. These are compulsory.

You cannot withdraw your child from any sex education that is taught as part of the science curriculum, for example the facts of human reproduction.

You can ask for your child to be excused from sex education taught as part of RSE. You can do this until your child turns 15. Young people aged 15 and older may choose to receive sex education even if their parents disagree.

Before you decide to withdraw your child, you should consider carefully whether this is best for your disabled child. Our guide to Growing up, sex and relationships may help you with this. Schools have a duty to discuss your concerns with you and help you to decide what is best.

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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