Department for Education
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Age limits introduced to protect children in RSHE

New age ratings to be introduced on Relationships, Sex and Health Education content in schools to ensure it is appropriately and sensitively taught.

Children will be protected from inappropriate teaching on sensitive topics thanks to new proposals from the government. 

Following multiple reports of disturbing materials being used in Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) lessons, the Department for Education has published updated guidance that will ensure content is factual, appropriate and that children have the capacity to fully understand everything they are being taught.

Parents will have the right to see the resources that are being used to teach their children about relationships, health and sex in all circumstances and new age limits will be introduced so that children are not introduced to content they may not have the maturity to understand.

Sex education will not be taught before Year 5, and at that point from a purely scientific standpoint.

The contested theory of gender identity will not be taught and the guidance confirms copyright law should not be a barrier to sharing curriculum materials with parents – with the updated curriculum open for a nine week consultation from today (16 May).

At secondary school pupils will learn about legally ‘protected’ characteristics, such as sexual orientation and gender reassignment, but the updated guidance is clear that schools should not teach about the concept of gender identity.

In light of the Cass Review, it is important that schools take a cautious approach to teaching about this sensitive topic, and do not use any materials that present contested views as fact, including the view that gender is a spectrum. This is in line with the Department’s gender questioning guidance, which also takes a cautious approach to assist teachers in ensuring they are acting in the best interests of children.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

Parents rightly trust that when they send their children to school, they are kept safe and will not be exposed to disturbing content that is inappropriate for their age. That’s why I was horrified to hear reports of this happening in our classrooms last year.

I will always act swiftly to protect our children and this new guidance will do exactly that, while supporting teachers to teach these important topics sensitively and giving parents access to curriculum content if they wish.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:

This updated guidance puts protecting children at its heart, and enshrines parents’ right to know what their children are being taught.

It will support schools with how and when to teach often difficult and sensitive topics, leaving no doubt about what is appropriate to teach pupils at every stage of school.

Parents can be reassured once and for all their children will only learn age-appropriate content.

Schools should ensure that RSHE teaching materials are available to parents and that parents are aware of what is being taught.

New content in the guidance, mirroring letters sent by the Education Secretary to schools over the past year, makes it clear that schools should make materials available to parents, and clarifies how copyright legislation gives them scope to do so.

The guidance also now includes additional content on suicide prevention in the secondary health and wellbeing section, including equipping pupils to recognise when they or their peers need help.

The guidance has also been strengthened to help young people to understand the benefits of rationing time spent online and the impact on their wellbeing, and the serious risks of viewing content that promotes self-harm and suicide.

Following reports of schools seeing rising levels of harmful misogynistic behaviour, the guidance now includes a dedicated section on sexual harassment and sexual violence, which covers some specific types of abusive behaviour that were not explicitly discussed previously, such as stalking, as well as advice for teachers about how to address misogynistic online influencers. 

James Grimes, Head of Prevention at Gambling with Lives said:

We welcome this guidance as DfE is clearly learning from gambling-related deaths and lived experience of addiction.

Young people deserve the full picture about the impact of addictive gambling products and the link to mental health harms and suicide.

Jason Elsom, Chief Executive of Parentkind:

Our 2023 polling of parents relating to sex education revealed the very serious concerns of parents. We are grateful to the time that the Government has given to understanding and addressing those concerns during the past twelve months, and fully support this commitment to ensuring parents are well-informed and actively involved in their children’s education when it comes to sensitive topics such as Relationships and Sex Education (RSHE).

As the first educators of their children, parents deserve full transparency and access to the curriculum and resources used in schools.

This initiative to strengthen the partnership between schools and parents will foster a collaborative environment, ensuring that children receive comprehensive, balanced, and well-informed education while respecting parents’ roles and concerns. We believe that open communication and shared understanding are key to promoting the wellbeing and safety of all children.

Dr Alison Penny, Director of the Childhood Bereavement Network said:

Most children will face the death of someone important by the time they leave school – the big feelings this brings can leave them feeling isolated. Consistent evidence from recent surveys shows that children, young people, parents and teachers support grief education being covered sensitively in school, aligned with children’s wider learning opportunities at home.

This empowers them to cope with their own experiences, and be better allies for their grieving friends, building a compassionate community around the next generation.

Louis Appleby, Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group said:

It’s vital that young people are able to understand thoughts of suicide or self-harm that they may be feeling, and that schools are confident in addressing this most sensitive of subjects. The new guidance aims to break down the shame that can make it hard to ask for help and, crucially, places an emphasis on safe ways of coping.

RSHE is vital in equipping students with the knowledge to make informed and ethical decisions about their wellbeing, health and relationships, setting them up for the future.

The updated guidance, which was informed by an independent panel, follows a thorough review by the government in response to disturbing reports that inappropriate material is being taught in some schools.

The draft guidance is now open to consultation. When final, the guidance will be statutory and schools will be expected to follow it.

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