By Sophie James on 26 Apr 2019
How can schools reassure and educate parents on the upcoming ‘Sex and Relationships’ changes in September 2020? What rights will parents have once the changes are in effect?
Some of you may be aware of recent controversy that a primary in Birmingham has recently faced regarding teaching children and young people about relationships and sex. This has been sparked from changes that are going to be coming into place within schools across the country. Here are the facts:
What does the Legislation say?
The current guidance is that adolescents will be educated about sex when they reach the age of 11, in terms of sexual reproduction and health, this doesn’t specify any particular sexual orientation (3). However, government guidance and legislation such as the Children and Social Work Act 2017 now states that from September next year, primary school children will be taught about relationships and all secondary schools relationships and sex education (1). Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman supports this, by stating that all schools should teach pupils about same-sex relationships.
While this movement is a step forward in terms of hoping that children become more knowledgeable, diverse, aware and open minded as a society, some individuals/parents are not comfortable with this movement. Within this change, parents are concerned that their young children are going to be taught about sex – however legislation is stating that young children are going to be taught about relationships. For example, the Department for Education 2017 has stated that children within primary school will be taught about friendships, family relationships, how to deal with strangers and at secondary school – they will then be additionally taught about intimate relationships (3).
Here I have broken down below what legislation is stating children will be taught within the curriculum in both primary and secondary settings.
Primary School – what will they be taught?
- Family – the importance of them, characteristics of a healthy family, how to recognise if family relationships are not safe and how to seek help if necessary.
- Friendships – how to recognise who to trust and who to not trust.
- Respect – how to respect yourself as well as others.
- Online Relationships – awareness of online safety and the risks associated with being online.
- Being safe – Understanding privacy, boundaries, consent, personal space and how to ask for help if they need it.
The DFE also states that primary school children should be educated and therefore aware of the changes they are about to face during their adolescence in preparation for secondary school.
Secondary School – what will they be taught?
This will build on what children have been taught throughout primary school.
- Families - Teaching young people about different types of relationships, what marriage and civil partnerships are, different versions/types of family cohesions, why marriage should be freely entered and how to assess the safety of a relationship.
- Relationships – Characteristics of a healthy friendship, how stereotypes damage people, sexual harassment and violence, legal rights.
- Online and the Media – Impact of viewing harmful content, the law – what shouldn’t be shared, online risks, how sexually explicit content presents a distorted image of sex.
- Being safe – Sexual consent, grooming, sexual exploitation, abuse, honour-based violence; FGM, domestic abuse, harassment, how to recognise and provide consent, how to withdraw your consent.
- Intimate and sexual relations – Characteristics of a healthy sexual relationship, managing sexual pressure, reproductive health, that it’s your choice to delay sex and to enjoy intimacy, to be taught about contraception, facts around pregnancy including – miscarriage, keeping the baby, having an abortion and how to get support through this, sexually transmitted diseases and testing and where to get advice and treatment in regards to sexual health.
Why is the change happening?
The aim of this is for children to recognise and understand how to build healthy relationships, how to set boundaries, to understand consent and how to recognise signs of an unhealthy relationship (3). The Education Secretary argues that this change will allow for primary school pupils to be taught about having respect for all kinds of diverse people as well as understanding menstrual wellbeing (2). In addition to this, the Importance of Teaching government paper 2010 stated that children need high-quality sex and relationship education so that they have the skills and knowledge to make informed choices regarding the way humans love each other and how to respect ours and others autonomy’s (4).
What responsibility does the school have?
By September 2020, relationships and sex education will become compulsory within school curriculums. Sex education is not compulsory within primary schools but relationship lessons are, it is down to the school to determine what they deem as age appropriate or necessary to teach their children (2).
Parents wanting to withdraw:
The Sex and Relationship Guidance 2000 states that all schools need to create an up-to date policy which will provide parents with information regarding their right to withdrawal (2). It is down to the head teacher’s discretion whether they will accept the request. It is recommended that as good practice, a head teacher should conduct meeting’s with parents that wish to withdraw to ensure that the child’s best wishes are been taken into consideration. Within this meeting, the head teacher can discuss the benefits that these lessons will have on their children’s health and wellbeing and any detrimental factors that may occur from not attending the lessons. After a discussion has taken place and the parents still wish to withdraw, then the head teacher should respect the parent’s wishes to withdraw (3).
What school’s need to know: Parental Rights?
The DFE guidelines state that all parents can request for their children to be withdrawn from these lessons up until their child is nearing 16 (3 terms before), which the child will then be able to override their parent’s decision if they wish to do so. The decision will be made at the head teacher’s discretion.
- Children and Social Work Act 2017 (Section 34: Education relating to relationships and sex)
- Sex and Relationships Education:Written statement
- The importance of teaching: the schools white paper 2010
- Sex and Relationship Education Guidance
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sophie has a degree in Child Health and Wellbeing and has worked in a voluntary capacity with RDA and as a Group Leader for NCS. This has given her experience of working with special needs students as well as those with challenging behaviour.