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Next steps taken to ensure age-appropriate Relationships, Sex and Health Education

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Leading experts in child safeguarding, health, teaching, curriculum development and equalities to contribute to review of the statutory guidance on Relationships, Sex and Health Education

Yesterday (31st May), the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, has announced the formation of an independent expert advisory panel who will advise on the review of the Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum. This is the next step in progressing the government’s mission to ensure that RSHE is taught in an age-appropriate and factual way in England.

The panel will provide expert advice to the Education Secretary on what is appropriate to be taught in RSHE and at what age. They will consider evidence provided by Ofsted on what is happening on the ground in schools to ascertain where clear age ratings are needed, to reassure parents that there is no room for disturbing or inappropriate content to be taught in schools.

This announcement follows robust action to ensure parents know what their children are being taught. In March, the Education Secretary wrote to all schools reminding them that parents should be able to view all curriculum materials, especially for sensitive topics like RSHE.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, said:

The wellbeing and safeguarding of children is our absolute priority, and I share the concerns of parents and teachers about reports that inappropriate lessons are being taught in schools.

The vast majority of teachers do an incredible job navigating these complex and sensitive issues. But the review of the statutory guidance – with the help of this expert panel – will provide clear safeguards against children being taught concepts they are too young to understand or that are inappropriate for their age.

I’m determined to bring forward new guidance as quickly as possible, and schools should continue to engage with parents on lessons that cover the teaching of sensitive issues.

The panel members were carefully considered based on their level of relevant experience and expertise and will bring together input from health, children’s development, and safeguarding:

  • Professor Dame Lesley Regan, professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Imperial College London and the government’s first ever Women’s Health Ambassador
  • Sir Hamid Patel, Chief Executive of Star Academies
  • Helena Brothwell, Regional Director of School Improvement for David Ross Academy Trust
  • Alasdair Henderson, barrister specialising in public law, human rights and equality law
  • Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families in England

Chief Executive of Star Academies, Sir Hamid Patel, said:

The panel will offer insight on how schools can deliver a high quality RSHE curriculum for all our young people in a way that is age-appropriate, objective and wisely informed by the needs and views of children, parents and families from all backgrounds, across the country.

The review is a welcome opportunity to provide clarity for teachers on expectations, alongside transparency and reassurance for parents.

This is the first review of the statutory guidance since it came into force in 2020. It will provide an opportunity to consider whether the guidance covers the right topics and offers teachers clarity on how to teach sensitive subjects and engage parents positively.

The review of the curriculum will also make sure priority issues are given the attention they deserve, including considering new or additional content on mental health, suicide prevention, vaping and tackling violence against women and girls.

The review will be completed by the end of the year, following a consultation in the autumn. Input from the independent panel and wider stakeholders over the summer will inform the consultation.

The panel will begin work immediately and conclude their work by September 2023. The panel members are expected to give their time on a voluntary basis.

Sector Response

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“The vast majority of schools already teach RSHE in a manner that is age-appropriate. The biggest challenge they face is the fact that they have been left to deliver this complex and sensitive subject with very little support from the government in terms of training and resources. We very much hope that the advisory panel will make recommendations not only on the RSHE curriculum but on the need for better support for schools.”

Sarah Hannafin, head of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“We are pleased to see that the expert panel must engage with a wide range of experts and stakeholders including schools and parents. However, it is concerning that there is no mention of listening to the views and experiences of children and young people.

“The statutory guidance is clear that pupils need knowledge that will enable them to make informed decisions about their wellbeing, health and relationships, to make sound decisions when facing risks and challenges and to support them to develop resilience, to know how and when to ask for help, and to know where to access support. To achieve this aim, we must also ask children and young people what they need and want from their RSHE.”

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