Revised guidance unveiled for Relationships and health education

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

After a three-month consultation, the DfE has published its revised statutory guidance for relationships and health education and has pledged a £6m support fund ahead of September 2020. Pete Henshaw explains

A £6 million budget has been set aside to provide a training and resources package for schools to deliver statutory relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education.

After receiving more than 11,000 consultation responses, the government published its revised statutory guidance for the new subjects last month.

Under the guidance, all schools – state and private – will need to deliver relationships education (primary phase) or RSE (secondary phase) from September 2020. Primary schools will be free to choose if they deliver aspects of sex education too.

Health education will also be mandatory from the same date, but only for maintained schools, including academies.

However, schools are being encouraged to begin teaching the subjects from September 2019, with the Department for Education (DfE) promising extra support for “early adopters”.

The revised statutory guidance will now be debated in the Houses of Parliament this spring before being finalised in the summer, although only minor changes are expected to be made from now on.

The document sets out content for the three subjects under broad headings, including what pupils should know by the end of each phase of education. It doesn’t stipulate further when exactly each topic should be taught. For example, in relationships education, by the end of primary school, pupils should have been taught about topics including:

  • Families and people who care for me.
  • Caring friendships.
  • Respectful relationships, including self-respect and respecting others.
  • Online relationships, including rules and principles for keeping safe, how people can behave differently online, and how data is shared.
  • Being safe, including appropriate boundaries in friendships, appropriate and inappropriate or unsafe physical and other contact, and how to report concerns or abuse.

On sex education for primary schools, the guidance confirms that it is not compulsory, but adds: “The content … covers everything that primary schools should teach about relationships and health, including puberty. The national curriculum for science also includes subject content in related areas. It will be for primary schools to determine whether they need to cover any additional content on sex education to meet the needs of their pupils.”

The guidance says that all schools should work with parents when planning and delivering relationships education and RSE. Parents should be aware of “what will be taught and when”.

The guidance also maintains parents’ right to withdraw their pupils from the sex education aspects of RSE, although it says headteachers should always try and discuss the benefits of the subject with parents before they make their final decision.

The guidance states: “Good practice is likely to include the headteacher discussing with parents the benefits of receiving this important education and any detrimental effects that withdrawal might have on the child. This could include any social and emotional effects of being excluded, as well as the likelihood of the child hearing their peers’ version of what was said in the classes, rather than what was directly said by the teacher.”

Health education, meanwhile, will cover both physical health and mental wellbeing, and the guidance stresses that the two are interlinked. The guidance stipulates a range of issues that students must be taught about under eight general headings, with content broken down by primary and secondary phases.

The eight headings are: Mental wellbeing, Internet safety and harms, Physical health and fitness, Healthy eating, Drugs, alcohol and tobacco, Health and prevention, Basic first aid, The changing adolescent body.

With one in eight students aged five to 19 now thought to have a mental health disorder (according to recent NHS statistics), mental health and wellbeing form a key strand of the health education content. At primary level, it covers: that mental wellbeing is a normal part of daily life, in the same way as physical health; how to recognise and talk about emotions and feelings; self-care techniques; and where and how to seek support, including who they should speak to if they are worried about someone else.

The DfE has said that to help schools prepare teachers to deliver the new subjects from 2020, £6 million will be made available in 2019/20 for a “school support package to cover training and resources”.

A statement said: “The DfE will also provide support to early-adopter schools who will start teaching the new content from September 2019. The lessons learned from early-adopters will be shared with other schools, to enable them to design high-quality programmes of study and prepare their teachers. The DfE will also offer training – either online or face-to-face – for teachers who might need it.

“Government support will build on a range of free resources from charities and other organisations that are already available for schools to use.”

The guidance also states that schools must have written policies covering the subjects they are required to deliver, including any aspects of sex education that primary schools choose to teach. Polices must describe subject content and how it will be taught, monitored and evaluated.

The DfE’s three-month consultation has not led to many changes from the original draft guidance that was published last year. The guidance now refers to RSE being used to develop “personal attributes such as honesty, integrity, courage, humility, kindness, generosity, trustworthiness and a sense of justice, underpinned by an understanding of the importance of self-respect and self-worth”. The concept of menstrual wellbeing has been added under health education and a new statement within the guidance provides clarification that the government expects all pupils to be taught age-appropriate content about LGBT issues.

It states: “At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, and we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.”

The government has also committed to reviewing the guidance three years after it is implementation and “regularly thereafter”.

In launching the revised guidance, education secretary Damian Hinds reminded schools of the strong links between all three new subjects: “Although sex education is only mandatory to teach at secondary, it must be grounded in a firm understanding and valuing of positive relationships, and respect for others, from primary age. In turn positive relationships are connected with good mental health, which itself is linked with physical wellbeing. It starts as it always did with the importance of friendship, kindness, taking turns; as well as learning about the pitfalls and dangers, including on the internet. It will help children learn how to look after themselves, physically and mentally, and the importance of getting away from the screen and headphones.”

Further information

  • Consultation outcome: Relationships (and sex) education and health education, DfE, Updated February 2019:

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