What does mandatory RSE mean for my child?

For Sexual Health Week 2020 and throughout September, Brook is celebrating the introduction of mandatory RSE in all schools in England. Brook’s Emma Gardner and Kelvin Leighton-Julian talk us through what mandatory RSE will mean for your child, whether they are at primary school or secondary school.

What is Mandatory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE)?

The government’s decision to make RSE mandatory in schools is to support the development of your child’s health and wellbeing. Helping children to keep happy, safe and healthy, and able to navigate challenges and opportunities in life. Schools should have a flexible approach to delivering this programme, and can ensure the content is developmentally appropriate, and include an approach that is sensitive to the needs and religious backgrounds of its pupils.

RSE has been welcomed by schools, parents and healthcare professionals across the country, however we know that parents have questions and some may have anxieties that I hope to address here.

What does relationships education in primary schools actually mean?

Relationships education should explore the principles of positive relationships through teaching about the characteristics and fundamental building blocks of family, friendships and relationships. Starting with topics about what friendship is, what family means, and who can support them. Children should also be taught about other topics like kindness and respect.

Good relationships education supports children to feel ready for the changes ahead.

What is secondary school RSE?

Secondary schools should cover a range of topics that are age appropriate, and build on learning from Key Stage 2. By the end of secondary school, pupils should have learned about:

• Families
• Puberty
• Respectful relationships, including friendships and consent
• Online media
• Being safe
• Intimate relationships, including sexual health

You can find more information in the Government’s guide for secondary school parents.

Why is RSE important?

Good RSE prepares children for the transition into adolescence and eventually adulthood, teaching respect for other people’s human rights and valuing people from different religions, ethnic backgrounds, abilities and sexualities.

Everyone in the UK is protected under the Equality Act 2010. The Act uses the term “protected characteristics” to refer to aspects of a person’s identity protected by law. The characteristics that are protected by the Equality Act are: race, disability, sex, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment. The PSHE guidance reminds schools of their duty under the Equality Act to ensure no pupils experience discrimination or harassment.

Can I withdraw my child from these lessons if I don’t agree with them?

Parents/carers have the right to withdraw their children from sex education, but not relationships or health education.

Some primary schools might decide to teach sex education (and many already do), and you can talk to your school about this content. Parents have the right to request that their child be withdrawn from some, or all of, sex education delivered as part of RSE. It’s important to remember that if your child is taken out of these lessons, they may hear about the lessons from their friends or peers but in a way that is not fully accurate, and they may also have questions that will need answering at home.

The science curriculum covers topics such as reproduction and human development, this is compulsory learning, and children cannot be withdrawn from these lessons.

In secondary school, parents will still have the right to request that their child is withdrawn from sex education (but not relationships or health education), up until 3 terms before the child turns 16. After that the child has the choice of receiving sex education with or without parental consent. For more information, see the Department for Education.

What can I do at home to support my child’s relationships and sex education?

The role of parents/carers in the development of their children’s understanding about relationships is vital.

Sexuality is part of natural development and children and young people will have lots of questions about these changes physically and emotionally. Often young people tell us that they would like to hear about this information at school and at home.

The key is to open up an ongoing dialogue, and move away from the idea of having ‘the talk’. Try to develop relationships where children of all ages feel that they can check in with you as their knowledge increases, and as their bodies change.

Having conversations related to personal safety and relationships while in the car, on a walk, or playing a game, can make children feel able to open up in a way that feels natural, without being put on the spot.

There is help for you to feel equipped about supporting your child’s learning about relationships education. You can expand your knowledge for example about puberty, through Brook’s free online learning platform, Brook Learn, and other free resources.   

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