MPs outline key recommendations to transform PSHE and SRE in schools


A call by MPs for PSHE and SRE to become statutory subjects made national headlines last week, but their inquiry also made a number of other recommendations. Pete Henshaw reports.

SRE in schools should be renamed Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in a bid to emphasise to students the importance of the relationships element.

The call is among a number of recommendations made after an inquiry by the Education Select Committee into PSHE and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE).

Coverage of the committee’s report in the mainstream media last week focused largely on the call for SRE to be made statutory. 

However, the report contains a raft of further recommendations for the government. These include: 

  • Requiring schools to run regular consultation with parents on SRE provision.

  • Retaining the parental right to withdraw their child from elements of SRE.

  • Formally endorsing and issuing the SRE guidance produced last year by the voluntary sector.

  • Reinstating funding for CPD for PSHE teachers and school nurses.

  • That the government ensure that there are sufficient school nurses training places and that the ratio of school nurses to children is maintained.

  • Monitoring schools’ compliance with the duty to publish information about their PSHE and SRE curriculum on their websites.

  • Changing the name of SRE to Relationships and Sex Education.

The report comes after an Ofsted investigation published last year found that PSHE requires improvement in 40 per cent of schools. 

In their report, the MPs warn of a “lack of clarity” about the status of SRE and that young people “consistently report” receiving “inadequate” SRE. Furthermore, they accuse the government of having a “weak” strategy for improving PSHE.

The report says that the committee accepts the argument that statutory status is needed for PSHE education with SRE at its core.

The Department for Education is now considering the report’s recommendations.

Among these recommendations, the MPs want the government to formally endorse the 2014 guidance Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century, which was produced by Brook, the Sex Education Forum and the PSHE Association. 

The guidance was produced in light of the fact that the most recent government guidance dates back to 2000 and is considered by many to be out of date.

MPs are also concerned about CPD. Figures in the report show that the national PSHE CPD programme was completed by just 141 professionals in 2013/14, compared with 1,356 people in 2007/08.

The government funded the programme from 2004 to 2010, but now it is run by Babcock 4S and the University of Roehampton at a cost of £700 a time.

Further concerns are raised about the lack of school nurses – who often help to deliver appropriate SRE and PSHE education. 

There are just 1,209 full-time equivalent school nurses according to the latest figures and a total of 7,140,000 pupils. One school nurse from East London told MPs that in her area there were 22 school nurses serving 42,000 children.

The inquiry received a number of submissions highlighting the importance of the relationships element of SRE and the fact that the subject is actually mainly focused on relationships rather than sex.

As such, MPs agreed with arguments for SRE to be renamed “Relationships and Sex Education” to “emphasise the significance of the relationships part”.

The MPs also call on the government to “clarify” the current status of SRE, including in different kinds of schools and to “communicate this message clearly to schools”.

Ultimately, however, the committee wants to see PSHE and Relationships and Sex Education statutory in all schools.

The report adds: “Statutory status for PSHE would not in itself guarantee an improvement in the quality of teaching, but we accept that a ‘system change’ is needed to raise the status of the subject – particularly in terms of dedicated curriculum time and the supply of suitably trained teachers.”

It adds: “We recommend that the DfE develop a workplan for introducing age-appropriate PSHE and RSE as statutory subjects in primary and secondary schools, setting out its strategy for improving the supply of teachers able to deliver this subject and a timetable for achieving this. 

“The statutory requirement should have a minimal prescription in content, and should be constructed with the aim of ensuring that curriculum time is devoted to the subject. 

“Alongside this, statutory guidance should be developed to enhance schools’ duty to work with parents in this area and secure and effective home-school partnership.”

You can download the report at

PSHE and SRE inquiry: Reaction

Graham Stuart MP, chairman, Education Select Committee: “There is an overwhelming demand for statutory SRE – from teachers, parents and young people themselves. It’s important that school leaders and governors take PSHE seriously and improve their provision by investing in training for teachers and putting PSHE lessons on the school timetable. Statutory status will help ensure all of this happens.

“SRE forms an important part of any school’s efforts to safeguard young people from abuse, and is particularly needed to protect the most vulnerable children. PSHE builds character and resilience, and will help young people to live happy and healthy lives.

“Parents have rights too. They must be consulted by schools on the provision of SRE and must keep the right to withdraw their children if they are unhappy with what the school provides.”

Siôn Humphreys, National Association of Head Teachers: “We particularly welcome the proposal that this should be described as relationships and sex education, emphasising this issue within the context of relationships. We also agree with the committee’s recommendation that the implementation of this change needs to be carefully planned, building on existing good practice and supported by high-quality professional development for both teachers and school nurses. Effective practice will also rely on strong partnerships and parental involvement.”

Lucy Emmerson, Sex Education Forum: “Debate about the pros and cons of statutory SRE has continued for long enough. Support for statutory SRE has never been clearer: nine out of ten students back legislative change, and more than three-quarters of parents want primary schools to teach about the difference between safe and unwanted touch and how to speak up if someone treats them inappropriately. The teachers, parents and MPs we speak to are often confused about the current requirements for schools. Although maintained schools are required to teach basic biology the fact remains that SRE is neglected in too many schools and teachers want more training to teach this vital subject properly.”

Joe Hayman, PSHE Association: “Statutory status for PSHE would have a massive impact on all schools and is supported by 87 per cent of parents, 88 per cent of teachers, 85 per cent of business leaders, five Royal Medical Colleges, two royal societies and more than one hundred expert organisations.

“We now call on ministers to urgently review their position in light of the overwhelming need for statutory PSHE, and the widespread support including that expressed by the Education Select Committee.”

Chris Keates, NASUWT: “If it is decided that an element of the curriculum should be statutory, then it is incongruous to retain the right of parental opt-out. Policy-makers need to decide whether SRE is statutory and is treated as such in all schools, in which case parental opt-out cannot be retained. If curriculum freedom for academies and parental opt-out are to be retained then quite clearly PSHE and SRE are not statutory and no-one should pretend otherwise.”

Christine Blower, National Union of Teachers: “The Education Select Committee was told by schools minister Nick Gibb that the government pinned its hopes for the future of PSHE on decisions by individual schools to ‘opt in’ to the subject. The committee has completely rejected this idea. In doing so, it has dealt another blow to the government’s laissez-faire approach to educational provision.”


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