The Education Secretary, Justine Greening, has made an historic announcement in The Commons about plans to improve relationships and sex education (RSE) and broader PSHE education in schools.

In a tabled amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, the Education Secretary is due to propose regulations that would ensure:

  • All primary schools (including academies, free schools, independent schools) in England must teach age-appropriate ‘relationships education’;
  • All secondary schools (including academies, free schools, independent schools) in England must teach age-appropriate ‘relationships and sex education’;
  • Updated guidance for schools on what to cover in RSE

The amendment would also give the Secretary of State power to make personal, social, health, and economic (PSHE) education statutory in its entirety, dependent on the outcome of a consultation. The Government intends to consult on this as well as the relationship between RSE and PSHE, providing further opportunity for the Association and partners to continue to make the case for broad, statutory PSHE education that not only covers RSE but issues such as alcohol and drugs, media literacy, mental health, physical health, online safety, tackling extremism and developing employability skills.

The Government has stated that they want any new obligations to come into force for schools in September 2019. This would include the RSE obligations outlined today along with implementing statutory PSHE education, should that be the decision the DfE arrives at after consultation.

PSHE Association Chief Executive Jonathan Baggaley said:

“This is a historic step and a clear statement of intent from Government. Following years of campaigning we are delighted that Justine Greening has taken this vital step to respond to the clear call from parents, teachers and young people that education must prepare all children, in all schools, for the opportunities and challenges of modern life.

“Relationships and sex education is a fundamental component of PSHE education so the immediate commitment to statutory RSE is welcome and we look forward to seeing further detail in the forthcoming policy statement.

“The consultation on broader PSHE education is an opportunity to continue to make the case for this vital school subject and to ensure it meets the needs of children and young people in this fast moving world. Pupils deserve high quality PSHE education and any change must guarantee appropriate training, support and resources for teachers and schools.

“We look forward to working with our partner organisations to ensure a broad PSHE education curriculum in all schools that develops the knowledge, skills and attributes young people need to be healthy, safe and thrive in life and work.”

As it stands the legislation would make ‘Relationships and Sex Education’ statutory in all secondary schools, including academies (this name change from ‘SRE’ has the benefit of foregrounding relationships in the subject and avoiding a purely biological approach).

Legislation would also make ‘Relationships Education’ statutory in primary schools and academies. Whilst it is concerning that ‘Relationships Education’ could lead to some confusion for schools we will be making clear the case that this should be delivered as part of a broad and balanced PSHE education programme. Whilst the name change is a cause for concern, we must all help ensure that for children in primary schools and academies ‘Relationships Education’ encompasses a truly comprehensive programme that includes teaching children about their bodies, about safe and unsafe touch, about the physical and emotional changes of puberty.

The likely next steps are for the DfE to consult on updating the statutory guidance on RSE and to consult on PSHE education more widely. We believe this provides a genuine opportunity to put forward, once and for all, the compelling case for the whole of PSHE education with the real possibility of change. If the Government is convinced of the case for the whole of PSHE education in this consultation, then it is a short step to making it statutory in all schools.

Responding to the announcement by the Secretary of State for Education to make Relationships and Sex Education statutory in all schools, Dr Max Davie, mental health lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“This is a significant move from Government and has the potential to benefit millions of children now, and improve the health of future generations. Whenever we speak to children about what they feels needs to be done to improve wellbeing and build resilience, they talk about the need for better education. Children spend a lot of their time at school, and ensuring they received age-appropriate information on sex, relationship and wider health issues is absolutely crucial to setting them on the right path.

“It’s important that Relationships and Sex Education is not only part of the curriculum, and therefore inspected by OFSTED, but that those who deliver it are properly trained and the content up to date and appropriate. We look forward to working with the Department to help shape the new programme and ensure it has the maximum benefit for children.

“We are also hugely encouraged by the Secretary of State’s intention to make PSHE statutory in the future. Prevention really does pay when it comes to mental health, and we know that increasing numbers of children are being diagnosed with mental health problems earlier in life. The more we can encourage open discussion about sex, relationships, social and emotional health at an early age, the more likely we are to build a generation of resilient adults.’