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On 1 March 2017, the then Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced her intention to put relationships and sex education on a statutory footing

This led to section 34 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, which requires regulations to be made for relationships and sex education to be taught in all schools in England. 

The legal requirement came into force on 1 September 2020 and means that:

  • All primary schools in England teach relationships education.
  • All secondary schools teach relationships and sex education.
  • Reformed statutory guidance for schools is in place, following consultation.
  • The right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education has been retained. Children approaching age 16 have new rights to ‘opt-in’.
  • Schools can remain flexible in their approach. This includes faith schools being allowed to teach within the tenets of their faith.

New regulations and guidance on relationships and sex education

The Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019 confirmed the legal changes. Statutory health education in schools was also introduced as part of the reforms.

Final statutory guidance on relationships education, relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education was published by the Department for Education in June 2019.

The disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic meant that schools could delay the introduction of the new requirements until summer 2021, if they were not ready to begin teaching the revised subjects.

The DfE has published a FAQs briefing on the changes.

In March 2023, the Prime Minister announced that the Department for Education would be conducting a review of the RSE statutory guidance, which is expected to publish early in 2024.

Ofsted’s review of sexual harassment and abuse in schools

In March 2021, the Government asked Ofsted to immediately review safeguarding policies in state and independent schools in relation to sexual harassment and abuse.

The review was published in June 2021. It depicted “widespread” sexual harassment in schools, and made recommendations for action from schools, government, and Ofsted to address the problem.

These included a carefully sequenced relationships and sex education curriculum with time to discuss topics young people find particularly difficult, such as consent and the sending of ‘nudes’, and high-quality training for teachers.

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