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On 19 July 2018, the DfE launched a consultation on the draft regulations and statutory guidance relating to RE, RSE and HE. In February 2019 the DfE published its response to that consultation, together with an updated draft guidance.

Who does the guidance apply to?

Unless otherwise specified in the guidance, ‘school’ means all schools, whether maintained, non-maintained or independent schools, including academies and free schools, non-maintained special schools, maintained special schools and alternative provision, including pupil referral units.

What is the status of this guidance?

This is statutory guidance from the DfE. It sets out what schools should do and sets out the legal duties with which schools must comply when teaching RE, RSE and HE.

This guidance replaces the Sex and Relationship Education guidance (2000).

All schools will be required to teach these subjects and have regard to the statutory guidance from September 2020. The DfE will, however, actively encourage and support schools to start teaching these new subjects from September 2019.

Key underlying principles to the guidance

  1. That children and young people need to know how to be safe and healthy, and how to manage their academic, personal and social lives in a positive way.
  2. All of the compulsory subject content must be age appropriate and developmentally appropriate.
  3. It must be taught sensitively and inclusively, with respect to the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils and parents, while always with the aim of providing pupils with the knowledge they need of the law.
  4. Parents and carers are the prime educators for children on many of these matters. Schools complement and reinforce this role.

Key Aspects of the Guidance

 1. Relationship Education

RE must be taught by all schools providing primary education. The guidance sets out what pupils should know by the end of primary education, including online relationships.

 2. Relationship and Sex Education

RSE must be taught by all schools providing secondary education.

Primary schools are not required to teach sex education beyond what is included in the national curriculum for science. If they choose to do so, they must allow parents a right to withdraw their child from this aspect of teaching.

In secondary schools parents will be able to request that their child be withdrawn from the sex education element of RSE up to and until three terms before the child turns 16.

 3. Health Education

HE must be taught by all maintained schools including schools with a sixth form, academies, free schools, non-maintained special schools and alternative provision, including pupil referral units.

The statutory requirement to provide HE does not apply to independent schools – PSHE is already compulsory as independent schools must meet the Independent School Standards.

The focus in primary school should be on teaching the characteristics of good physical health and mental wellbeing.

In secondary school, health and wellbeing education should enable pupils to understand how their bodies are changing, how they are feeling and why, and to further develop the language that they use to talk about their bodies, health and emotions.

In relation to teaching on puberty, menstruation and menstrual wellbeing should be taught in all primary and secondary schools.

 4. Policy

All schools must have in place a written policy for RE and RSE (as applicable to the school). Schools must consult with parents in developing and reviewing their policy. The guidance document sets out what typical policies are likely to include. 

 5. Religion and belief, including teaching in schools with a religious character

In all schools the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching. Schools may teach about faith perspective and schools with a religious character may teach their distinctive faith perspective on relationships but schools must ensure they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010, under which religion or belief are amongst the protected characteristics.

 6. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)

Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age appropriate. 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 rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, but it is expected that all pupils will have been taught LGBT content at a timely point.

 7. Flexibility

Schools will have flexibility over how they deliver these subjects, so they can develop an integrated approach that is sensitive to the needs of their pupils and the community.

If you require further information about anything covered in this briefing note, please contact Jonathan Eley, 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, March 2019

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