RSE: Engaging with parents

Written by: Lucy Emmerson | Published:

Parents cannot opt-out of new statutory relationships education in primary schools, but should still be consulted over the curriculum. Lucy Emmerson looks at how schools can engage with parents

While parents currently have the right to withdraw their child from relationships and sex education (RSE) at primary school, the new statutory relationships education provided from September 2020 will have no opt-out.

As such, the year ahead is an important window to ensure that parents can see what high-quality RSE is really all about.

New Department for Education (DfE) guidance on RSE, relationships education and health education (February 2019) was recently voted through Parliament by a majority of more than 500 MPs. This sends a decisive message, from across the political spectrum, that it is high time all children and young people are offered up-to-date and inclusive RSE.

Cause for celebration indeed and the beginning of a new era where the focus can be on supporting schools, and working with families, to provide high-quality RSE that meets the needs of the next generation. But what steps can schools take to show they mean business and present RSE in its best possible light?

Know the facts

The new guidance applies to all schools in England, and includes academies, free schools, independent and maintained schools. With the September 2020 start date now set, there will be much to consider.

Primary schools will be required to deliver relationships education. Primary schools can also choose to teach elements of sex education (although must allow parents a right to withdraw their children).

First, get to know the new curriculum requirements for relationships education, which spans family, friendships and respectful relationships, learning about boundaries, stereotypes, that each person’s body belongs to them, and the vocabulary and confidence to get help. The physical and emotional changes during puberty will also be statutory requirements for upper primary, included as part of health education.

Providing leadership

A critical starting point is to allocate leadership. This means making RSE and the new subject of health education a specific responsibility for a member of the senior leadership team in a school, appointing a subject lead (with appropriate status), and creating a link with the governors or management committee – usually by creating a specific role for this on the board. It is critical to get the leadership in place, and then to follow through by looking at staffing and training needs.

It is very clear in DfE’s guidance that RSE and health education are to be treated as subjects like any others, where all pupils make progress in achieving the expected educational outcomes, and with the staffing, resourcing and timetabling that enables the school to fulfil its legal obligations. This structural dimension will require considerable change in some schools, whereas others may already have a subject lead in place and a timetable that caters for RSE across all year groups.

Listen to parents

There is also a much more public dimension to updating RSE in your school. Parents may already have been in contact to ask what the changes mean. Schools should take this opportunity to be pro-active and ask for parents’ views. Try running a quick survey with parents, asking questions such as:

  • Has your child ever talked to you about something they learnt at school to do with growing up, relationships and sex?
  • Do you think there are any gaps in what the school is teaching, or any areas for improvement?
  • Would you like more information about what the school currently teaches on relationships and sex?
  • Do you want more support to help you talk to your child about sex and relationships issues as home?

A survey might be the first step towards creating a working group of parents to help the school review current provision and make recommendations for changes. A parent champion with a good understanding about the safeguarding benefits of RSE can be a helpful ambassador and gauge other parents’ concerns through informal conversations at the school gate. And don’t forget the views of pupils. This summer is also the perfect time to ask children to evaluate the RSE they have received so far, and then feed this back to parents and staff.

Celebrate RSE

Thursday, June 27, is National RSE Day. This is a day to celebrate your work on RSE, and all schools and communities are invited to take part. RSE Day was celebrated in Nottingham last year for the first time and this year the city council has partnered with the Sex Education Forum to expand the day. We have produced a list of ideas for primary schools wanting inspiration, for example:

  • Involve all pupils in making a display with the title “Every family is unique”.
  • Run an RSE-themed reading café for parents and carers, inviting families in to read RSE-themed storybooks with their children with refreshments available.
  • Work with pupils to create an assembly presentation on healthy relationships and invite parents in to watch.
  • Teach pupils how to say the following sentences in different languages: “Will you be my friend?”, “I love you”, “Thank you for being my friend”.

All these activities can help make RSE more accessible for parents, and will help children to have further conversations about these topics at home – something that children say is important to them.

This is an opportunity for schools who already feel confident about the quality of their RSE provision to lead the way and share what works with other schools.


Many schools are putting in place the measures needed to deliver RSE well. With only 15 months to go before the subject becomes compulsory, other schools should follow suit and contribute to the subject being something that we can all be proud of. It is time for RSE to shine.

  • Lucy Emmerson is director of the Sex Education Forum.

Further information & resources

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.