LGBT+ in the RSE curriculum

Written by: Adele Bates | Published:
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Ahead of SecEd’s Delivering Statutory RSE conference in January, expert Adele Bates – who will be leading two workshops at the event – looks at how we should be including LGBT+ in the new curriculum and signposts to some useful resources

LGBT+ relationships and sexual health education will now become part of the elements taught in the new compulsory relationships and sex education (RSE) in schools in England from 2020.

Exactly how this should be taught and when are determined by schools, age-groups and settings – however the over-riding message in the Department for Education’s statutory guidance is clear: “We expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.” (DfE, June 2019)

The main point of guidance on how to deliver this is that: “They should ensure that this content (LGBT+ RSE) is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson.”

This article provides best practice on how schools can approach this new compulsory part of education successfully – not least by training teachers and liaising with parents/carers – and offers practical tools and resources to use in your lessons.

Train your staff

For some staff, LGBT+ relationships and sexual health may be something they know nothing about; for others, it may be something that they think they know something about – but when examined, their knowledge is second-hand, hearsay, through social media and perhaps they had an uncle once who they thought was gay.

In line with all areas of the curriculum, it is vital that the people teaching it know their subject – even if staff identify as part of the LGBT+ community, it does not necessarily mean they know how to teach these issues or would want to – do not assume. For more advice, see How do you support your LGBT+ staff? (SecEd, 2018).

Most staff will have been educated when Section 28 was in place (from 1988 to 2003 – this stated that local authority organisations “shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”). As such, very few of us received any LGBT+ relationships and sexual health education. Hence why the training is vital. There is a list of recommended organisations who can provide this at the end of this article.

The statutory guidance states: “The starting principle when teaching each of these (topics) must be that the applicable law should be taught in a factual way so that pupils are clear on their rights and responsibilities as citizens.”

In this country, LGBT+ people have the same rights as non-LGBT+ people (including in Northern Ireland from 2020). Laws that affect young people – e.g. age of sexual consent, age of marriage – are the same no matter the gender of yourself or your partner(s). Knowing these equalities in our laws can help both staff and pupils to understand how, legally, they are protected and served.

LGBT+ RSE will inevitably bring up issues around homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and prejudices, as well as possible disclosures – all staff need the right training to be able to support pupils with this.


The specific advice at primary level is that relationships education and health education is taught. The guidance states: “The focus in primary school should be on teaching the fundamental building blocks and characteristics of positive relationships, with particular reference to friendships, family relationships, and relationships with other children and with adults.”

Sex education, in any form, is not compulsory until secondary school, however some primary schools may begin this earlier – depending on the pupils’ needs.

However, relationships education, while overlapping, is different – you can learn about different families all over the world – without discussing the sex life of the people, whatever their gender identity or sexuality.

You may have pupils with same-sex parents/carers and family, which is why this should be part of the discussion at primary level – to leave out a part of their experience of relationships based on sexual orientation, gender identity or any other of the protected characteristics would go against the Equality Act 2010.

The DfE guidance states that by the end of primary school: “Pupils should know that others’ families, either in school or in the wider world, sometimes look different from their family, but that they should respect those differences and know that other children’s families are also characterised by love and care.”


The DfE guidance states: “Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way. There should be an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships. This should be integrated appropriately into the RSE programme, rather than addressed separately or in only one lesson.”

The emphasis is on equality between all types of gender identity and sexual orientation. Sexual health and experience can be different for different genders, and there are specific differences around teaching on contraception, society’s acceptance and laws, and sexual health/safety, for example. However, there are also many similarities, such as on topics around consent, mental health and stereotypes.

Pupils with SEN

Pupils with additional needs also have the right to a full curriculum in RSE. Their changing bodies, hormones and feelings may not always align with their cognitive mental abilities, and there is a temptation to assume that relationships and sex are not relevant to them. On the contrary, pupils with SEN are more vulnerable in our society; they also have the right to enjoy safe, healthy relationships and positive sexual experiences with their own bodies and others’– the same as any human.

Young people with learning disabilities/autism are more likely to express themselves authentically, become attracted to whoever they are attracted to, and not conform to the general cis-heteronormative bias of western society – and many other social norms – this results a statistically higher percentage of young people with learning disabilities/autism identifying as LGBT+ (Abbott, 2015). For more information about how to adapt the RSE curriculum for SEN pupils see my recent article about SEN and RSE.

LGBT+ and faith schools

As stated in the statutory guidance, all schools are expected to teach the RSE curriculum, which is inclusive of LGBT+ RSE. The guidance says that faith schools may teach the content from their own religious perspective as long as it is recognised as such, alongside other perspectives – such as other religions, science etc. Some people of faith will also be or have family members who are LGBT+. For some pupils, this may be a challenge in certain social/religious communities and school is a place that can provide the information, safety and support that our young people need. See below for links to faith groups that support LGBT+ people.


Best practice for working with your parents/carers is to communicate the law changes, and your inclusive curriculum earlier on.

Discuss how a respectful, inclusive approach to RSE reflects your school’s values. Relationships education is compulsory for all pupils. For sex education, parent/carer withdrawal can be obtained up until three terms before the pupil’s 16th birthday. However, headteachers are advised to discuss the detrimental effect that withdrawal may have on the pupil.

The guidance states: “Good practice is also likely to include the head teacher discussing with parents the benefits of receiving this important education and any detrimental effects that withdrawal might have on the child. This could include any social and emotional effects of being excluded, as well as the likelihood of the child hearing their peers’ version of what was said in the classes, rather than what was directly said by the teacher.”

Equality: Still more to do

While the new statutory guidance is a step in the right direction in terms of equality in RSE education, there are still areas that have been left vague or open to interpretation and this can be unhelpful around LGBT topics.

Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are real and present in the UK. We may have won some equal rights in law, but an LGBT+ person is still more likely to experience more bullying, hate crime and inadequate health care than cis-heterosexuals: this prejudicial atmosphere inevitably seeps into our schools.

Educators are avidly discussing this topic. Some schools began their new RSE curriculum in September 2019, they will share best practice ready for others to follow in 2020. Hopefully, as we go forward and share best practice alongside experts and LGBT+ organisations we will be able to clarify and improve the current guidance for our young people.

The key points are...

  • The statutory guidance says that LGBT RSE is part of the curriculum.
  • Pupils may be withdrawn from sex education but not relationships education.
  • Sex education is not compulsory until secondary, however primary schools may introduce it if required for their cohort.
  • Relationships education is compulsory throughout school.
  • Pupils at primary are to be taught different types of families and relationships in relationships education.
  • To exclude families and relationships based on their gender, gender re-assignment or sexual orientation (or any other protected characteristic) would go against the Equality Act 2010.
  • All pupils are expected to have been taught about LGBT+ RSE by the end of their education.

  • Adele Bates is a behaviour and education specialist, teacher, speaker, writer and educator for students with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Visit

Delivery Statutory RSE & Health Education

Adele Bates will be presenting at SecEd’s Third National Delivery Statutory RSE & Health Education Conference on January 22 in London. She will present two workshops, one themed on LGBT+ in the RSE curriculum and a second focusing on RSE for pupils with SEN. Visit

Further information & resources


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