DfE pledges £6m support fund for RSE and health education

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

After a three-month consultation, revised statutory guidance has been published setting out the content for the new compulsory subjects of RSE and health education from September 2020. Pete Henshaw takes a look

Government funding of £6 million has been set aside to provide a training and resources package for schools to deliver statutory relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education.

After receiving more than 11,000 consultation responses, the government published its revised statutory guidance for the new subjects late last month.

Under the guidance, all schools – state and private – will need to deliver relationships education (primary phase) or RSE (secondary phase) from September 2020. Primary schools will be free to choose if they deliver aspects of sex education too.
Health education will also be mandatory from the same date, but only for maintained schools, including academies.

However, schools are being encouraged to begin teaching the subjects from September 2019, with the Department for Education (DfE) promising extra support for “early adopters”.

The revised statutory guidance will now be debated in the Houses of Parliament this spring before being finalised in the summer, although only minor changes are expected to be made from now on.

The document sets out content for the three subjects under broad headings, including what pupils should know by the end of each phase of education. It doesn’t stipulate further when exactly each topic should be taught. In RSE, by the end of secondary school, students should know about:

  • Families: includes different types of committed relationships.
  • Respectful relationships: covers bullying, sexual harassment and violence, the characteristics of positive and healthy friendships.
  • Online and media: includes rights and responsibilities, risks, the impact of harmful content.
  • Being safe: includes exploitation, abuse, grooming, harassment, rape, forced marriage, honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, and recognising and communicating sexual consent.
  • Intimate and sexual relationships/sexual health: includes the characteristics of positive and healthy relationships, consent, sexual pressure, contraception, pregnancy and STIs.

The guidance says that schools should work with parents when planning and delivering RSE. Parents should know “what will be taught and when”.

It also maintains parents’ right to withdraw their pupils from the sex education aspects of RSE, although it says headteachers should always try and discuss the benefits of the subject with parents before they make their final decision.

The guidance states: “Good practice is also likely to include the headteacher 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.”

However, at secondary level, the guidance includes a stipulation that from three terms before their 16th birthday, a withdrawn student can decide for themselves if they want to opt back in to sex education.

Health education will cover both physical health and mental wellbeing, and the guidance stresses that the two are interlinked. It stipulates the range of issues that students must be taught about, with eight general headings:

  • Mental wellbeing.
  • Internet safety and harms.
  • Physical health and fitness.
  • Healthy eating.
  • Drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Health and prevention.
  • Basic first aid.
  • The changing adolescent body.

Recent NHS statistics show that one in eight students aged five to 19 have a mental health disorder and mental health and wellbeing form a key strand of health education.

At secondary level, the guidance includes “recognising the early signs of mental wellbeing concerns” and the “common types of mental ill health, such as anxiety and depression”.

The DfE has said that to help schools prepare teachers, funding of £6 million will be made available in 2019/20 for a “school support package to cover training and resources”.

A statement said: “The DfE will also provide support to early-adopter schools who will start teaching the new content from September 2019. The lessons learned from early-adopters will be shared with other schools, to enable them to design high-quality programmes of study and prepare their teachers. The DfE will also offer training – either online or face-to-face – for teachers who might need it. Government support will build on a range of free resources from charities and other organisations that are already available for schools to use.”

The guidance states that schools must have written policies in place covering the subjects they are required to deliver. Policies must describe subject content and how it will be taught, monitored and evaluated.

The DfE’s three-month consultation has not led to many changes from the original draft that was published last year.

References to “self-control” and “self-sacrifice” have been removed and the guidance now refers to RSE being used to develop “personal attributes such as honesty, integrity, courage, humility, kindness, generosity, trustworthiness and a sense of justice, underpinned by an understanding of the importance of self-respect and self-worth”.

The consultation has also seen the concept of menstrual wellbeing being included under health education and specific reference to FGM under secondary RSE.

And there is also a new statement within the guidance clarifying that the government expects all pupils to be taught age-appropriate content about LGBT issues.

It states: “At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, and we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.”

The government has also committed to reviewing the guidance three years after it is implementation and “regularly thereafter”.

  • Consultation outcome: Relationships (and sex) education and health education, DfE, Updated February 2019: http://bit.ly/2GZZU9r


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