LGBT within high-quality RSE

Written by: Lucy Emmerson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

What can schools do to make LGBT-inclusive approaches central to high-quality, statutory relationships and sex education for all pupils. Lucy Emmerson offers some guidance

Nationally, more than one in four young people (22 per cent) say they did not learn about LGBT+ issues as part of RSE at school (SEF, 2018). Thankfully, new government guidance seeks to put this right (DfE, 2019). It sets out an expectation that all pupils are taught LGBT+ content at a timely point.

Schools should take heart from that the fact that new guidance on RSE and health education was recently voted through Parliament by an overwhelming majority of more than 500 MPs. This decisive message, from across the political spectrum, confirms the support for up-to-date and inclusive RSE.

So, with just over a year until the start of statutory RSE, now is the time to involve the whole school community in preparations for this change.

Know the facts

It is important to note the guidance applies to all schools in England, and includes academies, free schools, independent and maintained schools. From 2020, by the end of secondary school, all pupils in England should know about:

  • Different types of stable and committed relationships, and how they might contribute to human happiness.
  • Respectful relationships – and specifically boundaries, privacy, the management of conflict, reconciliation and ending relationships.
  • How people can actively communicate and recognise consent from others, including sexual consent.
  • Sexual health – including fertility, contraception, STIs, pregnancy choices and accessing help and advice.
  • The changing adolescent body, including menstrual wellbeing (within health education).
  • Mental health (within health education).

There is not a separate section covering LGBT+ issues because all aspects of RSE are relevant to LGBT+ people and require an LGBT+ inclusive approach.

The government guidance states that LGBT content should be fully integrated into a school’s programme of study for RSE rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson.

Providing leadership

A critical factor is allocating leadership. This means making RSE and health education a specific responsibility for a member of the senior leadership team in a school, appointing a subject lead (with appropriate status), and creating a link with the governors or management committee. Once leadership is in place, follow through by looking at timetabling, resourcing, staffing and training needs.

Pinpoint areas for improvement

A national poll of 1,000 young people across England (SEF, 2018) showed that LGBT issues, healthy relationships, recognising grooming, pornography, pleasure and female genital mutilation (FGM) are the most neglected aspects of RSE. Does this tally with the RSE in your school?

The summer term is an ideal time to survey pupils, or hold focus groups, to evaluate your RSE and pinpoint areas for improvement. Asking pupils to rate their RSE overall as either “very good, good, okay, bad or very bad” will provide a benchmark to measure improvements and give a comparison with our national poll in 2018, when 45 per cent of young people aged 16 and 17 rated their RSE as good or very good.

Listen to parents

There is also a much more public dimension to updating RSE in your school. Parents may already have been in contact to ask what the changes mean, and schools must consult parents in developing and reviewing their policy. Schools should take this opportunity to be pro-active and ask for parents’ views. A survey with parents could ask questions including:

  • Do you think there are any gaps in what the school is teaching or any areas for improvement?
  • Would you like more information about what the school currently teaches on relationships and sex?
  • Do you want more support to help you talk to your child about sex and relationships issues at home?

A survey might be the first step towards creating a working group of parents to help review current provision and recommend changes. A parent champion with a good understanding about the safeguarding and wellbeing benefits of RSE can be a helpful ambassador.

Celebrate RSE

Thursday, June 27, is National RSE Day. This is a time to celebrate your work on RSE and all schools and communities are invited to take part. Ideas for secondary schools include:

  • Pupils vote on a topical RSE issue to research and then discuss in tutor time.
  • Record short conversations about different types of friendship or relationships (like Radio 4’s listening project). Use these as a stimulus in lessons or put them on your website to show that the school values diversity.
  • Send a text or email to parents/carers sharing your plans for RSE Day and encouraging them to talk to their child about what they have been learning.


Many schools are putting in place the measures needed to deliver RSE well. With only 15 months to go before the subject becomes compulsory, other schools should follow suit and contribute to the subject being something that we can all be proud of. It is time for RSE to shine. 

  • Lucy Emmerson is director of the Sex Education Forum.

Further information & resources


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