RSE: Getting parents on board

Written by: Lucy Emmerson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Statutory relationships education is approaching and schools will want to have their parents’ support for the new-look curriculum. Lucy Emmerson advises

Worries about parental reactions have often held schools back from providing a full programme of relationships and sex education (RSE) for their pupils.

But with statutory RSE required from September 2019 – relationships education in primary schools – it is the ideal time to start talking to the whole-school community about your plans.

There are lots of ways to make this easier and plenty of research to give you confidence about the way forward.
Important facts to remember are that the majority of parents are very supportive of schools providing RSE, and also want to play a part in educating their children at home. In surveys young people say that school is their first choice for RSE, followed by their parents, but in reality, many parents are falling short in providing RSE at home.

So, there are two tasks here – getting the school RSE provision right and looking for ways to support parents in fulfilling their role as educators at home too.

The research also shows that RSE is more effective if both home and school are involved, so partnership is the key.
Opening a channel of communication is the way to get started. This summer is an ideal time to run a consultation event or survey with parents. Questions could include:

  • Did you know there is a school policy on RSE?
  • Has your child ever talked to you about something they learnt at school to do with growing up, sex and relationships?
  • Has your child ever asked you questions about growing up, sex and relationships?
  • Would you like more information about what the school teaches on sex and relationships?
  • Do you want more support to help you talk to your child about sex and relationships issues at home?

A short survey like this will start dialogue with parents. Feedback from the survey will give you more insight about parents’ views and needs and help you to pre-empt misunderstandings, and to plan a more in-depth consultation event if you wish.

Parents will also be interested to know the type of questions that children have at different ages, so if you are also running consultation activities with pupils or have examples from an anonymous pupil “ask it basket”, you will have up-to-date examples to share. Parents are often surprised by the questions children have asked at school and may then advocate for some topics to be introduced earlier.

Once your updated RSE programme is up and running, it is vital to continue communicating with parents. By giving updates about what will be taught and when, schools can give parents a chance to anticipate topics being covered at school and make their own timely input or follow up at home.

Family and relationships are such a fundamental thread in RSE and so it makes sense to design homework activities that involve parents, carers and even grandparents too. These activities can serve as ice-breakers for families to talk about their values, how expectations and experiences may have changed from one generation to the next, and to establish a shared understanding about places to go for help if children need to.

Parents have just as much right to expect good quality teaching in RSE as in other subjects. Rather than worrying about how parents might react, start working with your parent community now to develop really excellent provision in RSE.

The Sex Education Forum has a range of tools to help you including a poster which flags up the importance of working with parents on RSE, training courses to support you with all aspects of getting ready for statutory RSE, and a themed event on July 4 looking at the latest research and examples of good practice in involving parents in RSE. 

  • Lucy Emmerson is director of the Sex Education Forum at the National Children’s Bureau. For more information, visit

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