Relationships and Sex Education in Schools (England) – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The rules on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in England are changing. From September 2020, all primary schools will be required to teach “Relationships Education” and secondary schools, “Relationships and Sex Education”.  This applies to all schools in England, including independent schools.

This FAQs page provides an overview of the rules being introduced from September 2020.

Can parents withdraw their children from sex education?

Currently, section 405 of the Education Act 1996 enables parents to withdraw their children from sex education other than the sex education that is in the National Curriculum (such as the biological aspects of human growth and reproduction that are essential elements of National Curriculum Science).

Currently, section 405 of the Education Act 1996 enables parents to withdraw their children from sex education other than the sex education that is in the National Curriculum. This includes the biological aspects of human growth and reproduction that are essential elements of National Curriculum Science.

From 1 September 2020, the rules around withdrawal will change. The new rules state that, except in exceptional circumstances, the school should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child, up to and until three terms before the child turns 16. After that point, if the child wishes to receive sex education rather than be withdrawn, the school should arrange to provide the child with sex education during one of those terms.

Can parents withdraw their children from relationships education?

Relationships education is compulsory in all schools in England.

Are children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) required to attend RSE classes?

Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education must be accessible for all pupils. There may be a need to tailor content and teaching to meet the specific needs of pupils in special schools and for some SEN pupils in mainstream schools.

As with all teaching for these subjects, schools should ensure that their teaching is sensitive, age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate and delivered with reference to the law.

Will children be taught sex education in primary school?

Sex education will not be not compulsory in primary schools. However, the Department for Education does recommend that each primary school offer age appropriate sex education.

Primary schools that choose to teach sex education must allow parents a right to withdraw their children from any lessons that go beyond the national curriculum for science.

Are faith schools exempt from teaching RSE?

No. Guidance states that in all schools, the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account so that the topics covered in RSE classes are appropriately handled. Schools must ensure they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010, under which religion or belief are protected characteristics.

Does LGBT-related content have to be taught at both primary and secondary level?

The Department for Education expects all schools to teach LGBT content at “a timely point”. Secondary schools will be expected to include LGBT relationships in their teaching. It will not be compulsory at primary level, although the Government “strongly encourages” primary schools to discuss families with same-sex parents when teaching about different types of family.

Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age appropriate in approach and content. When teaching LGBT content, schools should ensure that this content is fully integrated into a programme of study rather than delivered as a stand-alone unit or lesson.

Who is responsible for teaching materials?

Schools should assess each resource that they propose to use. They should ensure that it is appropriate for the age and maturity of pupils and sensitive to their needs. Schools should also ensure that, when they consult with parents, they provide examples of the resources that they plan to use; this can be reassuring for parents and enables them to continue the conversations started in class at home.

The Department for Education provides a list of some of resources which are available free-of-charge in Annex B of their guidance (PDF 584 KB).

Further information