HCR Law Events

25 April 2023

Independent review of relationships, sex and health education in schools

The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have called for the Department for Education to carry out an independent review of sex education in schools which will be led by an independent panel of experts.

It is a result of allegations that children are being taught graphic and inappropriate content during their Relationships, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE) lessons.

What is the current Department for Education guidance on RSHE?

The current guidance covers information on what schools should do and the legal duties that schools must comply with when teaching RSHE, in line with Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) and the Equality Act. It is a mandatory part of the curriculum and schools must provide materials that are factually accurate and age appropriate.

It outlines what pupils should know by the end of primary and secondary school. In primary school this includes respectful relationships, families, friendships, safety, and online relationships as well as puberty and menstruation. This is further developed in secondary school where young people are taught intimate and sexual relationships including the law and covers:

  • The age of consent
  • what consent is and what it is not
  • rape
  • sexual assault and harassment
  • choices permitted by law around pregnancy
  • contraception
  • coercive control
  • safe sex and sexual health
  • sexual exploitation
  • online abuse

The current guidance also gives schools the freedom to create their own developmental curriculum that is age appropriate and meets young people’s needs. This allows schools to consider community issues and local public health. Schools can tailor materials and programmes to meet pupil needs.

What will the panel be doing?

The independent panel will advise schools on how to implement clear safeguards such as introducing age ratings. This will stop younger pupils from being taught potentially damaging concepts that they are too young to understand.

The independent panel will also review the current teachings and consider how to ensure that all RSHE is ‘factual’. Some schools include certain sensitive topics in their RSHE which are not universally accepted and present them as fact. Part of the review will involve the independent panel engaging with some schools but also other institutions within the education and health sectors.

What is the purpose of the review?

The overall aim is that pupils will leave school fully equipped to make informed decisions about their own individual health, wellbeing and relationships, with this knowledge and understanding being provided to them at an appropriate time during their education and in a suitably sensitive way.

What has been done so far?

The Government has recently written to schools reminding them that they have a legal duty to publish their policies on RSHE and that they must consult with parents on the subject. There is also an obligation to provide parents with all of the teaching materials being used as part of the curriculum.

What happens next?

In the coming weeks an independent panel will be appointed and will include external expertise and input from children’s development, curriculum, health, and safeguarding perspectives. The review is to be concluded by the end of this year.

We would recommend that schools continue to follow the current guidance and we will provide an update once the review is concluded and published.

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About the Author
Kristine Scott, Head of Education and Charities Sector, and Cheltenham Office

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