Schools and colleges (together, schools) will be aware of the new Statutory Guidance on Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education which was due to come into force in September 2020 and applies to all primary and senior schools, including independent schools. Please note that, due to the inevitable disruptions caused to the education sector by coronavirus, the Department for Education (DfE) have written to schools to announce that they will be allowed to delay teaching to the start of the summer term 2021 if they assess they are unable to meet the requirements before. The DfE have said that, regardless, schools should aim to start preparations to deliver the new curriculum as soon as possible. Schools that are prepared to begin teaching from September 2020 are also encouraged to do so as planned. Please be aware that there is no public statement on the DfE’s website concerning the contents of their letter to the schools.
There is already much good practice in the delivery of relationships and sex education within schools’ personal, social and health education, but schools will need to compare their current policies and curriculum with what is now required of them in the new Statutory Guidance.
The key document for all schools is the Statutory Guidance from the DfE and is issued under Section 80A of the Education Act 2002 and section 403 of the Education Act 1996 – available here. All schools must have regard to the guidance, and where they depart from those parts of the guidance which state that they should (or should not) do something they will need to have good reasons for doing so.
This note sets out a summary of the new requirements, and, in particular, the requirement for all schools to consult with parents. As the new curriculum should be taught from September 2020 (unless they are unable to meet the requirements due to disruption caused by coronavirus), schools will need to have completed their consultation with parents before then. Other useful relevant resources, such as the updated Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 guidance (read our article on this guidance here), have and will be published online by the DfE.
It may be helpful if we break down the three different types of compulsory education which schools must implement as set out in the Statutory Guidance:
- Relationships Education is compulsory for all schools providing primary education. Primary schools may, however, choose to teach some elements of sex education.
- RSE is compulsory for all schools providing secondary education.
- Health Education is only compulsory for maintained schools. The requirement to provide Health Education does not apply to independent schools because PSHE is already compulsory and independent schools must meet the Independent School Standards set out in the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014. Independent schools, however, may find the principles in the guidance on Health Education helpful to refer to in planning their curriculum.
Summary of the requirements
All schools must:
- have in place a written policy for Relationships Education and RSE;
- set out the subject content, how it is taught and who is responsible for teaching it;
- describe how the subject is monitored and evaluated;
- provide a copy of the policy free of charge to anyone who asks for one;
- publish the policy on the school website;
- consult parents in developing and reviewing their policy;
- (should) ensure that the policy meets the needs of pupils and parents and reflects the community they serve;
- include information about a parent’s right to request that their child be excused from sex education (only); and
- schools with a religious character may teach the distinctive faith perspective on relationships, and balanced debate may take place about issues that are seen as contentious.
These requirements are fully developed in the Statutory Guidance.
Consulting with parents
Under paragraph 13 of the Statutory Guidance, all schools must consult with parents in developing and reviewing their policy and curriculum for Relationships Education and RSE. Schools may choose how they do this, drawing upon the existing mechanisms they have to engage parents. The guidance states that parents should be given the opportunity to understand the purpose and content of the new curriculum, and to ask questions about the school’s approach. Schools are required to listen to parents’ views, and then make a “reasonable decision” as to how they wish to proceed. When and how content is taught is ultimately a decision for the school, and consultation does not provide a parental veto on curriculum content.
Schools will therefore want to go further than the simple distribution of a draft policy with a note attached asking parents to “be in touch with any queries”. We suggest that a strategy for parental consultation is drawn up which might include presentations at future parents’ evenings, a parental questionnaire or survey, letters from the school outlining the changes to RSE and so on. Schools should also provide parents with examples of the resources they plan to use in the delivery of the curriculum.
We suggest that schools make clear that parental consultation is a requirement under the new legislation and that you welcome parental involvement. We suggest that a senior member of staff (for example the Pastoral Deputy) oversees this process, leaving the Head to be the final arbiter in determining the published curriculum. Please note that parental consultation is required as an ongoing process when the RSE curriculum is adapted in the future.
Schools will also want to work closely with governors in the strategy for parental involvement and the development of the RSE policy.
Further useful documents from the DfE about the requirement for parental consultation with respect to RSE can be found at:
- Understanding Relationships and Health Education in your child’s primary school: a guide for parents
- Understanding relationships and health education in your child’s secondary school: a guide for parents
- FAQs: Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education
For additional information or advice about parental consultation, responses to parental questions or concerns, or policy development, please contact Mary Breen, Xinlan Rose, or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, July 2020