Are you ready for statutory RSE?

Written by: Jenny Barksfield | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock
I am concerned that when teaching young children about different types of relationships, it may ...

Posted by: ,

Is your school preparing its PSHE provision for statutory relationships and sex education? With draft updated statutory guidance soon to be published, Jenny Barksfield offers practical advice and signposts a range of resources

As you’re probably aware, relationships and sex education (RSE) is set to become compulsory in all secondary schools (including academies, maintained and independent schools), from September 2019, through the Children and Social Work Act, 2017 (together with relationships education at primary phase).

This same act also gives the secretary of state for education the power to make PSHE education in its entirety statutory, subject to consultation.

The introduction of statutory RSE will bring with it long-overdue updated statutory guidance, which will be published in draft for consultation in the spring. But how can schools prepare for statutory RSE when the guidance is not yet published and there is still a long way to go before we know for sure whether the rest of PSHE education will be made statutory as well?

The best way to prepare is to ensure that your school’s PSHE education, including RSE, is in line with current best practice, with an effective structure in place. This way you can be confident that not only are you doing the best you can for your students but you’re as ready as you can be for whatever policy change comes along.

It is useful to start by reviewing what you are currently doing and identifying areas for development in two broad areas:

  • First, the way your PSHE including RSE is led, organised and delivered.
  • Second, the content of your current curriculum for PSHE, including RSE.
  • Third, teaching and learning for PSHE, including RSE.

Below are detailed some key questions for each of these three areas:

Area 1: Led, organised and delivered

Do we have an SRE/RSE policy and is it fit-for-purpose?
Currently academies and independent schools don’t need to have a policy (although we would strongly recommend they do). Statutory RSE will include the requirement to have a policy in all schools. We have just updated PSHE Association guidance on writing or updating your RSE policy and the Sex Education Forum also provides guidance in this area (see further information for this and all subsequent links).

Is RSE an integral part of a broader PSHE programme?
This is crucial – to be effective RSE must be taught within a broader programme that addresses areas such as mental health and wellbeing, drug and alcohol education, media literacy, online safety, and developing essential skills and attributes such as communication, resilience, empathy, risk management, decision-making and managing peer influence. The Sex Education Forum has included this as the first of their recently launched principles of effective RSE.

Is PSHE including RSE taught through an effective model of delivery?
To be effective, this complex curriculum subject needs discrete time on the timetable. Learning can be enhanced through tutor time, “focus days”, and through one-off events, but these should only ever enhance, rather than replace, timetabled lessons. Our guidance on different models of delivery provides an “at a glance” summary of all the pros and cons of different delivery models.

Area 2: Curriculum content

Is our programme up-to-date, inclusive and age-appropriate?
The PSHE Association Programme of Study for PSHE education includes three core themes: Health and Wellbeing, Relationships, and Living in the Wider World.

The “relationships” theme has the most obvious focus on RSE, but aspects are also threaded throughout the other core themes as well, as sex and relationships are integral to our health (mental and physical) and how we approach the wider world. So auditing your current RSE provision against the programme of study, together with the rest of your PSHE programme, is a great place to start.

The Sex Education Forum has developed 12 principles of good quality RSE, which are supported by the PSHE Association, children’s charities and education unions. They can be downloaded from the SEF website and would provide a useful additional audit tool and/or discussion starter for reviewing your RSE provision.

Are we using the best resources?
Choosing the right resources for teaching RSE can be a daunting task. Quality control can be an issue, and there are a minority of unscrupulous providers that will be out to exploit increased expectations by rushing out resources of little value, or in some cases with incorrect or even dangerous advice.

Some resources will look the part, with expensive production values or glossy materials, but it’s important to keep in mind that the quality of the content doesn’t always match. And do keep an eye on expensive subscription models that might keep their full costs in the small print.

Choosing resources that have been written or quality-assured by the PSHE Association, or recommended by the Sex Education Forum should give teachers peace of mind.

Area 3: Teaching and learning:

Who needs training before we can evaluate our current teaching standards in PSHE including RSE?
PSHE education including RSE has a well-established and distinct pedagogy. However, many teachers, including PSHE leads, have had little or no training in this pedagogy. So before reviewing current practice in your school, make sure that whoever will be doing this (especially the PSHE lead) has had appropriate training and has a sound grasp of best practice principles.

The PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum (and in some regions, local authority teams), offer high-quality training (for example the PSHE Association’s courses Effective leadership and management in PSHE education and Preparing for statutory RSE within your secondary PSHE curriculum).

How good is teaching and learning in RSE (and all aspects of PSHE) in our school?
Carrying out learning walks and lesson observations can give valuable insights into the quality of teaching and learning. We have templates to support PSHE leads and senior colleagues to focus on the aspects most relevant to best practice principles, as well as a useful checklist for evaluating the quality of lesson plans for RSE and PSHE. Student voice is vital in RSE. Carrying out your own questionnaires and focus groups will give invaluable information.

When reviewing the quality of teaching, it is important to think about assessment. Assessing learning in RSE should not be limited to the knowledge content, such as the symptoms and treatment of STIs, but also to the skills and attributes students need to make and maintain safe, healthy relationships.

This should involve self-assessment as well as teacher assessment, with plenty of opportunities for personal reflection on the learning.

See our website for more detail on assessment in all aspects of PSHE education. Examples of this in practice can be seen in the lesson plans accompanying our guidance on teaching about consent.

What other training needs do staff in our school have?
Lack of teacher confidence is a huge obstacle to effective teaching in RSE, together with the constantly changing subject content and the potential for poor practice to do harm (as with all elements of PSHE).

A review of RSE/PSHE teaching, as mentioned above, will highlight specific areas for development, then it is worth putting pressure on your senior team, or on your local authority or academy trust to provide the training you and/or your colleagues need.


We see the proposed government changes as a great chance for schools to bring their RSE provision up-to-date as part of an effective PSHE programme, in line with best practice. But we also recognise the challenges involved, particularly for schools with little in place at the moment. However, there is plenty time to make a lot of progress before the changes come into place.

While it is impossible to cover everything in an article, we hope this provides a useful introduction, and we’re always on hand to offer our members the support and training they need to improve provision.

  • Jenny Barksfield is deputy CEO and senior subject specialist at the PSHE Association, a national body for PSHE education. A charity and membership organisation, the association provides teachers and schools with resources, training and support to improve their PSHE provision. Visit

Further information

I am concerned that when teaching young children about different types of relationships, it may include such adult subjects as homosexuality,transsexualism and same sex marriage. I really don't think that this type of intimate relationship should be discussed until Secondary age. There is so many good and positive teaching points that could be made concerning faithfulness, love, forgiveness, respect, bullying etc that these adult subjects can be left until the children are older.
Posted By: ,

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Claim Free Subscription