Twenty Second Report Contents

Instruments drawn to the special attention of the House

Draft Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019

Date laid: 25 February 2019

Parliamentary procedure: affirmative

The Department for Education (DfE) has laid these draft Regulations to underpin the requirement, from September 2020, for schools in England to teach all primary pupils Relationships Education, and all secondary pupils Relationships and Sex Education. Schools other than independent schools will also be required to teach primary and secondary pupils Health Education. In teaching the new subjects, schools must have regard to the statutory guidance which DfE is issuing in parallel with these Regulations. The Department states that the new subjects will enable schools to address effectively issues such as internet safety and unhealthy relationships and ensure pupils are taught in an age-appropriate way about respectful and healthy relationships, including friendships and family relationships. The Sub-Committee is aware that these Regulations raise highly sensitive issues about which many people feel very strongly. We are grateful to those who have provided written evidence to the Sub-Committee expressing their deeply held views. The evidence, from over 430 correspondents, is referred to under the correspondence heading in this report and summarised in Appendix 2.

The draft Regulations are drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground that they give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.

Background

5.The Department for Education (DfE) has laid these draft Regulations with an Explanatory Memorandum (EM) and Impact Assessment (IA).

6.The Sub-Committee is aware that these Regulations raise highly sensitive issues about which many people feel very strongly. The purpose of this report is to explain the content of the Regulations and to provide additional information to assist the House in its deliberation on them. The decision on whether to support the policy intentions of the Regulations is, of course, a matter for the House.

Current situation

7.As DfE explains in the IA, the subject of Sex Education has been compulsory in all maintained secondary schools since 1993. Some aspects of Sex Education also form part of the national curriculum for science for 5-16 year olds. For example, pupils in primary schools are taught about the main external body parts and changes to the human body as it grows from birth to old age, including puberty. Pupils in secondary schools are taught about reproduction in humans, for example the structure and function of the male and female reproductive systems, menstrual cycle, gametes, fertilisation, gestation and birth, and about HIV/AIDS.

8.Maintained schools must have an up-to-date policy that sets out the school’s approach to Sex Education. Schools should consult their pupils’ parents on this and must make the policy available to parents. Parents have the right to withdraw their children from all or parts of Sex Education, except those aspects that are part of the national curriculum for science in maintained schools.

9.Academies and free schools are not required to teach Sex Education but they are encouraged to do so.

10.When teaching Sex Education, including where academies and primary maintained schools choose to do so, schools are required to have regard to the statutory Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) guidance. The guidance was last updated in 2000.

11.Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) is compulsory in independent schools. PSHE teaching should reflect the school’s aims and ethos, and encourage respect for other people having regard to their protected characteristics. It is not a statutory subject in maintained schools or academies, but they are encouraged to teach it. It can encompass many areas of study. In some primary and secondary schools, Sex Education is taught as part of PSHE.

12.Teachers have the freedom to design lessons in Sex Education and PSHE that meet their pupils’ needs, taking account of pupil and parent views. Teachers are encouraged to develop their practice with the support of specialist organisations, such as the Sex Education Forum and the PSHE Association.

Provisions under sections 34 and 35 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017

13.The Department states in the IA that it is required under section 34 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 (“the 2017 Act”) to make regulations (and publish associated guidance) relating to Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education. The Department has powers under the 2017 Act to consider making PSHE, or elements of PSHE, mandatory in state-funded schools.

New policy

14.The Department states that the key aim of the policy is to support schools to deliver high-quality Relationships Education to all primary pupils, Relationships and Sex Education to all secondary pupils, and Health Education to all primary and secondary pupils (except those in independent schools) to ensure that young people are taught to stay safe and are prepared for life in modern Britain. Independent schools are already required to teach the subject of PSHE and will continue to adhere to the independent school standards, and in particular the standard which requires them to teach PSHE.

15.In the EM, DfE states that the Government acknowledge that many schools are already teaching these subjects and, in some cases, doing so very well. However, it justifies the decision to make Relationships Education mandatory for all primary pupils, Relationships and Sex Education mandatory for all secondary pupils, and Health Education mandatory for all primary and secondary pupils in state-funded schools on the ground that “it was important to ensure universal coverage for all pupils and improved quality.”3

16.In the IA, DfE states that it “is committed to maintaining flexibility for all schools in their approach, enabling them to have regard to the age and religious background of their pupils”.

Age-appropriateness

17.We asked the Department how age-appropriateness of content will be determined, particularly for the youngest age group.4 In response, DfE stated that:

“We trust schools to consider this based on their knowledge of their pupils and working in partnership with parents, as has always been the case for SRE, which was made compulsory for maintained secondary schools in 1993. The guidance is clear that the content must be taught to pupils by the end of primary school. The guiding principles for these subjects have been that all of the compulsory subject content must be age appropriate and developmentally appropriate. It must be taught sensitively and inclusively, with respect to the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils and parents whilst always with the aim of providing pupils with the knowledge they need, including the relevant legal provisions.”

18.The Department added that:

“Specifically on resources, schools should assess each resource that they propose to use to 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 parents, they provide examples of the resources that they plan to use as this can be reassuring for parents, and enables them to continue the conversations started in class at home.”

Consulting parents on content

19.We asked DfE what the requirements are on schools to consult parents on proposed content and what format this would take. The Department responded that they are proposing that schools will be required (as set out in the draft Regulations) to consult parents on their Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education policy, and that:

“[o]ne key purpose is to help minimise any misconception about the subjects and what will be taught, and to enable parents to decide whether to request that their child is withdrawn from sex education. Schools should engage proactively with parents, to set out how and when they plan to cover topics included in Relationships Education and RSE so that parents can understand clearly what is going to be taught.”5

20.The Department added that they believe schools are best placed to decide how best to consult parents on their proposed policies and that schools already communicate and consult parents on a number of school matters and they may want to use existing practices to inform parents on the availability of their proposed policies. The Department stated that it expects to share some good practice examples of effective and regular consultation with parents, to support schools to do this well and draw out core principles such as consultation being done for each year group where this is taught.

Right for parents to withdraw their child

21.DfE states that currently parents are free to withdraw their children from sex education provision in maintained schools – and from academies that choose to teach SRE - if they wish to do so. The only exceptions to this are the elements of sex education that are part of the national curriculum for Science in maintained schools. The Department states that “[w]hile we have no up-to-date figures on withdrawal rates, an Ofsted report from 2002 reported that only four in every 10,000 pupils are withdrawn from provision”.6

22.Currently, when a school receives a parental request for their child to be excused from some or all of Sex Education, the school must comply with the request until the request is withdrawn. DfE explains in the EM, however, that a right for parents to withdraw their child up to 18 years of age is no longer compatible with English case law or the European Convention on Human Rights. It also states that allowing parents to withdraw their child up to age 16 would not allow the child to opt in to Sex Education before the legal age of consent

23.Under the new policy, the following will apply:7

24.Given the complexity of the new policy, the House may wish to invite the Minister to provide further clarification about how it will operate in practice in relation to these three age ranges.

25.DfE has also told us that:

“There will be no right to withdraw from Relationships Education – the primary legislation (the Children and Social Work Act 2017) did not allow for a right to withdraw from Relationships Education in primary schools and we have decided that there should also not be a right to withdraw from relationships in RSE at secondary. The content of Relationships Education at primary focuses on building blocks needed to support children to have healthy relationships with their family, build caring friendships and show respect for others – it does not include content on sex. At secondary, it continues to focus on family and friendships, but also widens out to reflect that secondary age pupils are embarking on independent relationships of their own. Any content on intimate aspects of relationships would fall under sex education.”

Teaching materials

26.We asked DfE whether standardised teaching materials would be provided to help teachers deliver the content set out in the guidance. The DfE replied that as is the case with other curriculum subjects, the Department does not provide schools with standardised teaching materials. For example, the programmes of study for national curriculum subjects set out the key knowledge that pupils should be taught. Schools develop the schemes of work and lesson plans that meet the needs of their cohort of pupils. The Department also stated that “[w]e know that there are many good quality resources available to schools already, and schools have the freedom to use teaching materials from, for example, subject associations who quality assure materials they produce for schools.” The Department added that “…we do also intend to produce a supplementary guide, best practice and training for schools to support their delivery of the subjects and expect this to, amongst other things, cover advice on how to select appropriate materials. Our implementation support will also include targeted support on materials to help teachers where we find gaps on content for the new subjects.”

Physical health and mental wellbeing

27.The draft statutory guidance sets out that the aim of teaching pupils about physical health and mental wellbeing is to give them the information that they need to make good decisions about their own health and wellbeing, and that it should enable them to recognise what is normal and what is an issue in themselves and others and, when issues arise, know how to seek support as early as possible from appropriate sources.9

28.We note that, according to the draft statutory guidance, issues to do with sexual relationships, including sexual health, fall under the heading of “relationships and sex education”. Sexual health, however, is closely connected with physical health and mental well-being. The House may wish the ask the Minister for a fuller explanation of the interrelationship between these two subject areas.

Consultation

29.In the EM, DfE gives details of its programme of stakeholder engagement and consultation to help shape the new relationships and sex education curriculum. Between October 2017 and March 2018, the Department’s programme included round-table sessions with national and local groups representing interested parties such as parents, religious bodies, teachers and subject specialists. Between December 2017 and February 2018 the Department conducted a call for evidence to seek views from adults (including parents, teachers, educational professionals and organisations) and young people on the content of the new subjects. There were 23,000 responses.

30.The Department consulted on the draft regulations, guidance and regulatory impact assessment from 19 July to 7 November 2018. Over 40,000 responses were received. 4,788 participants answered questions on whether they agreed or disagreed that the draft regulations clearly set out the requirements on schools to teach the new subjects: there was an equal proportion of respondents who agreed or strongly agreed (37%) and disagreed or strongly disagreed (37%). In the EM, DfE states that many of the responses were in relation to the content of the guidance rather than the draft regulations, and that the consultation did not highlight any specific issues with the technical drafting of the regulations.

Cost breakdown

31.In the EM, DfE states that the impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies is estimated to be £4.6 million, and this will apply to independent schools. The impact on the public sector is estimated to be £29 million and will apply to all state-funded schools - maintained schools, academies, pupil referral units and non-maintained special schools.

32.We asked the Department whether any additional funding was being made available in relation to the new policy covered by the Regulations and how allocations to individual schools will be decided. The Department responded that it had announced a budget of £6 million in the 2019-20 financial year to develop a programme of support for schools, with funding beyond 2019-20 being a matter for the forthcoming Spending Review.10

Timing

33.While schools will be required to teach the new subjects from September 2020, they will be encouraged to follow the new guidance from September 2019.

34.In response to our questions,11 DfE stated that it will be working with schools, unions, other education providers and expert organisations to encourage early adopter schools, who will begin teaching to the content of the new guidance from September 2019:

“The lessons we learn from these early adopter schools will be shared with schools working to the September 2020 timetable. We will identify a sub-set of early adopter schools to develop case studies and good practice and will provide them with some funding to do so. We will also work with early adopter schools to support the design of the training programme and to refine a supplementary guide. The development and testing of the training programme is where we envisage the bulk of the £6m allocated in 2019-20 will be deployed. We feel that the production of such a high-quality resource will deliver better value and benefit for schools than simply distributing the £6m across all schools in the system.”

Correspondence

35.We have received over 430 submissions of evidence in response to this instrument.12 The evidence expresses a range of concerns which are set out in a summary published at Appendix 2 of this report. We are aware that these Regulations raise highly sensitive issues about which many people feel very strongly. We are grateful to those who have provided evidence to the Sub-Committee expressing their deeply held views.

36.Appendix 1 contains additional information received from DfE, including responses on issues raised by certain submissions.

Conclusion

37.Given the significance of these draft Regulations, we draw them to the special attention of the House on the ground that they give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.


3 Explanatory Memorandum, para 7.4.

4 See Q8 in Appendix 1 to this Report.

5 See Q5 in Appendix 1 to this Report.

6 Impact Assessment, p 4. Ofsted (2002) Sex and Relationships.

7 See Q5 in Appendix 1 to this report.

8 Department for Education, Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education: Draft statutory guidance for governing bodies, proprietors, head teachers, principals, senior leadership teams, teachers (February 2019): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/781150/Draft_guidance_Relationships_Education__Relationships_and_Sex_Education__RSE__and_Health_Education2.pdf [accessed 27 March 2019].

9 Ibid.

10 See Q1 in Appendix 1 to this report.

11 Ibid.




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