Through the Children and Social Work Act 2017 we legislated to place a duty on the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations requiring:
All schools providing primary education in England to teach age-appropriate ‘relationships education’ to pupils receiving primary education; and
All schools providing secondary education in England to teach age-appropriate ‘relationships and sex education’ to pupils receiving secondary education.
The Act also created a power for the Government to make regulations requiring personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) to be taught in all schools. It is already compulsory in all independent schools.
I am today launching a call for evidence to gather the views of teachers, parents, and most importantly, young people to help us shape relationships education in primary school and relationships and sex education in secondary school. Our aim is to help our young people to stay safe and be better prepared to face the challenges of the modern world.
The current statutory guidance for teaching relationships and sex education was last set in 2000. It needs updating to reflect today’s world as it does not address risks to children that have emerged over the last 17 years, including cyber bullying, ‘sexting’ and staying safe online. The call for evidence will invite views on age-appropriate content that builds young people’s knowledge and understanding over time, including:
how to recognise, understand and build healthy relationships, including self-respect and respect for others, commitment, boundaries and consent, tolerance, and how to manage conflict, and also how to recognise unhealthy relationships, addressing issues such as bullying, coercion and exploitation;
understanding different types of relationships, including friendships, family relationships, dealing with strangers and, at secondary school, intimate relationships;
safety online, including use of social media, cyberbullying, sexting; and,
how relationships may affect health and wellbeing, including the importance of good mental health and resilience.
Schools will continue to have flexibility over how they teach these subjects so that they can ensure their approach is sensitive to the needs of their pupils and, in the case of faith schools, in accordance with the tenets of their faith. Schools will ensure that parents are fully consulted on their approach. As now, primary schools do not have to teach sex education and the Government has no proposal to change this, but if primary schools do choose to teach sex education, parents will be able to withdraw their children from these lessons.
We are also seeking views on the future of PSHE. The call for evidence will close on 12 February 2018. It forms part of the wider engagement process we are conducting with the education sector and other experts to inform the development of these subjects. The engagement process, supported by our education adviser, executive headteacher Ian Bauckham CBE, will be followed by a formal consultation on draft regulations and guidance before regulations are laid in the House for debate.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: