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Firm backing for new DfE health education and RSE guidelines

1decision's Hayley Sherwood says that the controversial new guidance will help children learn about difference and understanding

Posted by Julian Owen | February 27, 2019 | People, policy, politics

The Department for Education (DfE) guidelines for relationships education in primary schools, relationships and sex education (RSE) in secondary schools, and health education for all ages, are a welcome development that support headteachers in giving these subjects the status they deserve. 

Having contributed to the consultation, and met with the DfE to explore the best possible approaches to make these important subjects more relevant to modern life, I am delighted with the overall outcome. Our interest is mainly within primary education, and getting the right building blocks in place to support children in today’s world. The new guidelines give us a recognised platform to do just that, and I am in total agreement with what schools are required to have in place for September 2020.  

We now know that primary children will be taught age-appropriate online safety, including what to do if they come across something they are uncomfortable with, the importance of respect for others - even when posting anonymously - and the dangers of talking to strangers online. We also know that primary children will learn how to look after their own mental wellbeing, and to recognise when their classmates might be struggling; together with studying nutrition, the importance of staying active and spending time outdoors, and getting enough sleep. 1decision is fully set up to support these guidelines. 

Nobody can say the teaching of sexual content, cyber safety and mental health are not important. 

The guidelines fit the overall ethos of the proposed new Ofsted inspection framework, which is currently out to consultation. Importantly, they acknowledge that personal development cannot be assessed in a uniform way, that all children are different and develop at different rates, and that the best way for children to thrive as individuals is not to be limited by a previous system obsessed with statistics and data. 

I have, however, been disappointed to read somewhat narrow media headlines focusing on how primary school children will be taught about gay and transgender relationships as part of compulsory lessons, which really only serves to alarm a proportion of parents who will inevitably not welcome the move. They have also chosen to link the guidelines to a protest of more than 300 parents and children in Birmingham who are unhappy that lessons on homosexuality and gender will be taught, as well as the petition signed by over 100,000 people objecting to the RSE curriculum.

MPs debate RSE 

On Monday 25 February, MPs debated a petition urging the Government ensure parents can opt their child out of relationship and sex education. 

The petition, signed by more than 104,000 people, states: “We believe it is the parent’s fundamental right to teach their child RSE topics, or to at least decide who teaches them and when and how they are taught. We want the right to opt our children out of RSE when it becomes mandatory in Sept 2020.

“We have grave concerns about the physical, psychological and spiritual implications of teaching children about certain sexual and relational concepts proposed in RSE, and believe that they have no place within a mandatory school curriculum.”

In response to the petition, the Government said: “As primary educators, parents must be consulted on their school’s curriculum for relationships, and relationships and sex education and may request their child’s withdrawal from sex education.

“Today’s children and young people are growing up in an increasingly complex world, living their lives seamlessly on and offline. This presents many positive opportunities, but also challenges and risks. Pupils need to know how to be safe and healthy, and how to manage their academic, personal and social lives in a positive way.” 

Click here for Hansard’s full transcript of the debate

Many school communities will be distracted and swayed by these stories, and we all have a responsibility to make a stand on the wider focus of learning and the societal issues the guidelines address. Nobody can say the teaching of sexual content, cyber safety and mental health are not important. Yet here we are, focusing on LGBT issues when RSE and health education encompass so much more. The message should be about equality, diversity and inclusion – that we are all unique in some way, and this should be embraced – rather than reinforcing divisions around male/female, black/white, gay/straight and so on. Children need to be taught to be accepting of differences and opinions. 

The DfE has said it will provide £6m of funding in 2019-20 for a school support package to cover training, and resources to ensure teachers are well-prepared ahead of the subjects becoming mandatory. This commitment to funding, together with the guidelines, offer autonomy and flexibility for schools to commission the best possible learning resources to support the new requirements. September 2020 is only 18 months away, and schools should have clarity now as to when exactly they will be able to access this funding. For all the promise and potential created by the new guidelines, this is the biggest question we do not yet to know the answer to. 

Hayley Sherwood is the creator of 1decision.

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