Relationships, Sex and Health Education: Statutory Guidance - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 2:37 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Lords Spokesperson (Equalities) 2:37, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement to the House setting out the Government’s proposals for updating the 2019 statutory guidance on relationships, sex and health education, which my department has published today for consultation. I thank my department for its hard work in getting us to this point.

This Government have a plan to deliver a brighter future for Britain, one where families are supported and given the peace of mind that their children are safe and being equipped with the skills they need to succeed. Good relationships, sex and health education—RSHE—plays a key role in this. However, following disturbing reports from parents of pupils being taught inappropriate content in schools, and requests from schools which wanted more clarity on when to teach certain topics, the Prime Minister and I decided to bring forward the review of RSHE. We have listened to colleagues across government and the House, have gathered evidence from stakeholders and considered advice from an independent panel of experts who generously gave their time, experience and knowledge to support the review last year. I put on record my personal thanks to each individual panel member.

We need to make sure that the content of lessons is factual and appropriate and that children have the capacity to fully understand everything that they are being taught. We need to make sure that our children are prepared for the world in which they live, but not in a way that takes away the innocence of childhood. In short, we need to let our children be children. It is a fine line to tread and schools need clarity on how to approach it.

Overall, this guidance is underpinned by three core values: one, parents have a right to know what their children are being taught; two, teachers are there to teach children facts and not to push the agendas of campaign groups; three, schools should not teach about the contested issue of gender identity, including that gender is a spectrum.

There are five major policy changes that I would like to set out. The first is the introduction of age limits for teaching sensitive subjects. The purpose of the new age limits is to make sure that children are not taught things before they are ready to understand them. Informed by the advice of the independent panel and others, the guidance places specific age limits on the teaching of certain subjects.

In primary schools, children learn about the importance of boundaries and privacy and that they have rights over their own bodies, but no 10 year-old should be taught the details of intimate sexual acts, sexual harassment and sexual violence. In primary schools, sex education is not a requirement and should be introduced only from year 5 onwards. The content should align with the national curriculum’s science teachings on conception and birth, ensuring that it is rooted in fact. It should absolutely not be preparing primary-age children for sexual activity.

The second flagship change is complete openness with parents. Parents are their children’s first teachers and they must know what they are being taught. The guidance contains a new section that makes the need for transparency with parents crystal clear, and clarifies the scope within the law to share materials. The bottom line is that curriculum providers should not be seeking to hide their materials from parents. This practice is completely unacceptable; parents have a fundamental right to know what their children are being taught about healthy relationships, sex and development.

Thirdly, on teaching about gender reassignment, many schools have told us that they need clear guidance to help them teach about this highly sensitive, complex issue in a factual and safe way. We are making it absolutely clear that the contested topic of gender identity should not be taught in schools, at any age. Schools should not be providing classroom materials that, for example, include the view that gender is a spectrum.

While protected characteristics, such as gender reassignment, should be taught, they must be done on a factual basis, at an appropriate age, and not based on contested ideology. This reflects the cautious, common-sense approach that we have taken in our guidance on children questioning their gender, which also reflects the recommendations of the Cass review.

There is also a dedicated section on sexual harassment and sexual violence. The growth of malign influencers online, who pose a risk to children and young people, has been significant and is one of the key ways the world has changed for young people since this guidance was originally published and, indeed, since all of us were in school. This new section covers some specific types of abusive behaviour which were not previously discussed, such as stalking, as well as advice for teachers about how to address dangerous, misogynistic online influencers.

Now I would like to consider the sensitive but important issue of suicide prevention. Ministers and I have met bereaved families, experts and teachers to explore how suicide prevention could be taught as part of RSHE. I pay tribute to the incredible work of 3 Dads Walking, who have used the unimaginable tragedies in their lives to campaign for important change.

The current RSHE guidance already included content in relation to teaching pupils to look after their mental well-being and support themselves and their friends. We have now made clearer how this content on mental well-being relates to suicide prevention. Of course, the topic of suicide itself needs to be handled sensitively and skilfully, and not before pupils are ready to understand it. Obviously, children’s maturity varies, but our engagement suggested that children typically develop the necessary understanding from when they are in year 8. We have made sure that this updated guidance acknowledges that it can be important to discuss this with pupils, and we have added advice to set out how schools could address suicide prevention in their teaching.

Finally, the guidance also includes a new topic on personal safety. This includes additional content on understanding the laws around carrying knives and knife crime and the dangers of fire, roads, railways and water.

Together, I am confident that this guidance will give teachers and head teachers clarity over what should and should not be taught, provide parents with the peace of mind that their children are being taught in a safe and factual manner, and reassure everyone across society that pupils are being taught what they need to know at the right age and time in their lives. A copy of the guidance has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. I commend this Statement to the House”.