On 24 October 2023, the Education Secretary wrote to all schools to clarify that parents can and should have the right to – and are encouraged to ask about – all materials used in schools for relationship, sex and health (RSHE) lessons, and that copyright law does not prevent schools from providing copies of RSHE materials for parents to take home.
In April 2023 we reported that the Prime Minister, and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, had called for the Department for Education (DfE) to carry out an independent review of sex education in schools as a result of reports that children were being taught graphic and inappropriate content during their RSHE lessons.
In light of these concerning reports, the Education Secretary wrote to all schools in England in March 2023, reminding them of their legal duty to publish their policies on RSHE and how schools must consult with parents on the subject. At this time, the Education Secretary made clear the obligation on schools to provide parents with all of the teaching materials being used as part of the curriculum.
The Education Secretary’s most recent letter centres around the sharing of information at the request of parents, including that schools should share worksheets, presentations, or other content used in lessons when asked to do so. It clarifies that copyright law cannot be used to prevent schools from sharing materials, and any attempt by providers to do so through contract terms would be unenforceable and void. This is because they contradict the clear public policy interest of ensuring that parents are aware of what their children are being taught in RSHE.
A further open letter to parents, intended to go hand-in-hand with the letter sent to schools, details how parents “should always be able to see the materials that are being used to teach [their] children” and that “copyright restrictions do not prevent [parents] from seeing materials that are being used in the classroom”.
For schools this means that, should a third-party teaching provider refuse to share the materials when requested by parents, every effort should be made to continue to share the materials regardless. Where a school is faced with contractual clauses in a contract which prevents materials being shared, the Education Secretary has stated she will support schools defending parents’ right of access and has provided a practical sample letter that all schools can adapt and send to external providers. Maintained schools and academies are subject to freedom of information (FOI) law and may also receive FOI requests in relation to this information which must be handled in a compliant way.
It is anticipated that, following the conclusion of the independent review, the amended RSHE statutory guidance will be published for consultation at the end of this year. The Education Secretary has made clear that the provision of materials used to teach RSHE and the issue of copyright law will be reflected in the updated statutory guidance. We will provide further updates on this issue in due course.