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Suicide awareness in the school curriculum

Since September 2020, health education has been a statutory part of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools in England. See the Library briefing on  Relationships and Sex Education in Schools (England) for more information about these changes.

The Government has published statutory Guidance on relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education  (2019). The guidance sets out what pupils should know about mental wellbeing by the end of primary school and the end of secondary school. This includes discussing mental health conditions, recognising early signs of mental wellbeing concerns and knowing where to seek help.

The guidance does not explicitly include teaching on suicide awareness, though it is noted that students may bring up the topic of suicide:

  1. There are some important points for teachers in terms of how they approach this content and how they consider their planning. When teaching the new subjects, schools should be aware that children may raise topics including self-harm and suicide. In talking about this content in the classroom, teachers must be aware of the risks of encouraging or making suicide seem a more viable option for pupils and avoid material being instructive rather than preventative. To avoid this, they should take care to avoid giving instructions or methods of self-harm or suicide and avoid using emotive language, videos or images. Teacher Guidance: preparing to teach about mental health and emotional wellbeing provides useful support for teachers in handling this material.

Further guidance, issued by the PHSE Association (funded by the DfE), Mental health and emotional wellbeing teacher guidance (updated 2021) provides additional information on teaching about self-harm and suicide. The guidance does not set out what should be covered in relation to suicide but notes that lessons on suicide may be taught. The guidance focuses on things to avoid in these sessions, such as distressing images, detailed information on methods. It also says extra care should be taken to signpost pupils to sources of support.

Government Review of RSHE

The Government has committed to carrying out a review of the revised RSHE curriculum. On 8 March 2023, Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, responded to a question from Miriam Cates saying the Government was “bringing forward a review of RSHE statutory guidance and will start our consultation as soon as possible.”

In response to an earlier PQ, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that suicide awareness and prevention would be considered in the review:

All pupils in schools are taught about mental health as part of the relationships, sex and health Education (RSHE) curriculum, which the Department has made mandatory in 2020 to ensure that all pupils are taught about important topics. Schools can teach older pupils about suicide in an age appropriate and sensitive way.

Ministers are aware of the interest in the inclusion of suicide prevention material in the RSHE curriculum and have written to key campaigners about this important topic.


The Department is taking a comprehensive, evidence based approach in deciding what should be included and suicide prevention will be considered in the review.

Guidance and training on mental health in schools and colleges

The DfE had also published guidance on Mental healthand behaviour in schools (updated November 2018). It does not include information on suicide awareness, but it gives advice on topics that can be factors in suicide prevention, including:

  • promoting positive mental health in schools
  • understanding the link between mental health and behaviour
  • identifying children with possible mental health problems
  • putting in place support, including working with external agencies.

In December 2017, the Government published a Green Paper on Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision. This was subject to consultation and the Government published Government response to the consultation on ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision: a green paper’ and next steps in July 2018.

The Government said in the response that it would be taking forward proposals to train a Designated Senior Lead for mental health in all schools by 2025 and to fund Mental Health Support Teams, supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff.

The document also states the Government is committed to providing mental health awareness training to every secondary school by 2019 and every primary school by 2022. It also refers to a four-year National mental health ‘Link Programme’ between schools and the NHS, designed to raise awareness of mental health concerns and improve referrals to specialist help when needed.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Public Health England (now the UK Health Security Agency) launched Psychological First Aid training for people who care for or work with children and young people aged up to 25.

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