FAQs on Statutory SRE 2017

FAQs about new legislation for statutory RSE

Have you taken our quiz about statutory RSE? Download the answers and read these FAQs for further details about the new legislation.  

1. What does the new legislation say

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 introduces new legislation on relationships and sex education in schools. 

2. What does the new subject of ‘relationships education’ mean for primary schools?

  • There is no detail about topics in the primary legislation, but the DfE Policy Statement broadly references healthy relationships.

  • Schools will be mandated to address some topics (relationships) but may cover other topics in accordance with the needs of the school community. In the event that primary schools 'choose to teach sex education in an age-appropriate way, as they can now, they will be able to do so, but the right to withdraw from that will still apply, as it does in secondary schools'*.

  • The consultation on the regulations and guidance will present an opportunity to influence the content of the topic in line with best practice


3. What training is available

Our new course 'Get ready for statutory RSE' is aimed at PSHE leads and RSE teachers. This is a one day course with primary school and secondary school versions. The next courses are in March and May 2018 in London,  and we can also provide this course for you at your own venue England-wide.  

There is a range of training available on different aspects of RSE from our core members.

4. Will parents retain the right to withdraw their child?• Parents will not be able to withdraw their child from relationships education in primary school.

  • Parents will only be able to withdraw their child from primary school classes which address sex education - i.e. those that do not sit within the relationships education curriculum.

  • Maintained primary schools are required to teach National Curriculum science, which includes some elements of sex education. Parents do not have a right to withdraw from this.

  • At secondary school level parents will be able to withdraw their child from RSE (other than the sex education which sits in the National Curriculum as part of science in maintained schools).

  • Schools will continue to be required to publish policies on these subjects for parents, and statutory guidance will continue to set out that schools should consult parents on those policies to ensure they are feeding in their views*.

  • The Secretary of State intends to consult further in order to ‘clarify the age at which a young person may have the right to make their own decisions. The outcome will be set out in the regulations and guidance.

5. What are the implications for faith schools?

  • The legislation will retain the right of faith schools to teach ‘according to the tenets of their faith’ whilst still being consistent with requirements of the Equality Act. The scope and limitation of this right will be clarified in the regulations and guidance

  • During the debate in Parliament the Minister, Edward Timpson MP, clarified that schools will be able to exercise flexibility over how to teach a topic, not whether to teach it

  • The Church of England and Catholic Education Service have expressed support for the introduction of statutory RSE in advance of the debate in Parliament 

6. What is going to happen next?

  • The Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced on 19 December 2017, an eight week 'call for evidence' inviting views of teachers, parents and young people to help shape first updating of relationships and sex education guidance since 2000. This closed on 12th February 2018. We expect the next step will be that draft guidance is published for consultation. 

  • The Department for Education will consult widely with the education and young people’s sectors in order to determine the content of the regulations and statutory guidance; and on whether to introduce PSHE as the framework within which SRE is delivered

  • The Secretary of State will bring the regulations and guidance back to the House of Commons for its approval

7. What is the timeframe for these changes?

  •  The Department for Education will draft regulations and guidance and will put them out for consultation 

  •  Regulations and final draft guidance will be presented in Parliament, and final statutory guidance will be published - probably by September 2018

  •  Schools will be expected to deliver ‘RSE’ in secondary schools and ‘relationships education' in Primary schools, in the academic year 2019/2020

8. What is Sex Education Forum’s role in this process?

  • We will work with our members and wider stakeholders to support the consultation process and to inform the work of the Department for Education as it develops the new regulations and guidance and considers the role of PSHE

  • We will continue to ensure that members are updated on all policy developments and receive up to date information on resources, information and CPD opportunities to support the delivery of high quality SRE

  • We will continue to provide training opportunities to teaching and non-teaching professionals which is evidence-based and reflects the expressed needs of children and young people

9. What are the implications for RSE in schools in the meantime?

  • Until the legislation is passed and regulations and guidance are finalised, schools’ current legal obligations remain in place (see FAQs on current statutory requirements below)

  • Schools do not need to wait for the publication of the regulations and statutory guidance in order to make changes that will increase the quality of SRE provision. A range of resources can support this process including: SRE key values and principles; supplementary advice for schools ‘SRE for the 21st Century’; and SEF’s curriculum design tool

  • Many schools and teachers are already delivering great SRE which is much more comprehensive than the minimal legal requirements. Please keep up the good work!

10. How will Relationships and Sex Education be inspected?

  • Relationships and sex education falls within the scope of school inspection. Inspections will check to see that a school is providing the full statutory curriculum, and these issues can also be considered within the context of assessing the school’s leadership, the quality of teaching, pupil safety and pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Key elements are already covered in Ofsted’s school inspection handbook, and Her Majesty’s chief inspector will take full account of the new requirements in determining future school inspection arrangements'*

  • Ofsted is already seeking to appoint an HMI lead for citizenship and PSHE, whose role will be to keep abreast of developments in this area and oversee the training of inspectors in light of the new expectations on schools*.

  • Independent schools will be held to account through inspectors reporting against the independent school standards*.

11. How will the Government ensure that the statutory guidance remains up to date?

  • The Government will commit to reviewing the statutory guidance on RSE within three years of its publication, and to a regular timetable after that, that will balance continuity for schools with ensuring content is up to date.*

*Edward Timpson MP, Hansard, March 7th 2017


12. What should I call SRE, as a local authority, going forward for primary schools?

Thanks to this local authority PSHE lead for submitting this question. "I have a query about what to call SRE, as an authority, going forward for primary schools. My main query is around the sex part and the new relationships education term. We deliver a course called delivering primary SRE with confidence and I am wondering whether we would now refer to primary SRE just as RE or would we call it RSE? It is the same with our primary SRE policy – would this now be called an RE policy or would it be a RSE policy?" 

SEF's answer:

According to the new legislation secondary schools will be teaching RSE as a mandatory topic – but with parental opt out still allowed. Primary schools will be teaching Relationships Education as a mandatory topic, but with no parental opt out. There is not intended to be any content relating to ‘sex’ in this curriculum – though the legislation does not specify what does and doesn’t fall into these categories (e.g. naming body parts, preparation for puberty, talking about safe and unsafe touch... Are these ‘sex’ or 'relationships?')

Primary schools will still be allowed to continue to teach a complete RSE curriculum, but it will not be mandatory to do so and parents will be able to opt their children out of the bits of the curriculum that are deemed to be about sex. 

We hope that the guidance and regulations will clarify the serious issues raised by this question. In the meantime we are recommending best practice for all schools – which means to teach a spiral curriculum of SRE/RSE from the beginning of primary until the end of secondary, taking the building blocks approach that we know is effective. If I was advising many schools as you are I would probably continue talking about SRE, transitioning to the statutory relationships education curriculum in 2019. The guidance might make it easier to understand how to talk about this so it is probably not advisable to invest in any major change of terminology at this stage.



If you have new information to update these FAQs or have further questions please email us 

 Additional resources and responses to Government announcement:

Schools and parents working together on SRE resources from Sex Education Forum

Faith and values in SRE resources from around the country

Statement of support for SRE from The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, the Church of England’s Lead Bishop on Education

Statement of support for SRE from The Catholic Education Service




FAQs on current statutory requirements

(which will be superceded by the new 2017 legislation with implementation beginning in September 2019)


Isn’t SRE/RSE compulsory already?

No. The current legislation is confusing, but it allows primary schools and academies to choose not to teach a programme of sex and relationship education (SRE).

There is some basic sex education such as puberty and reproduction in primary science and the menstrual cycle and reproductive system in secondary science. This is part of the National Curriculum and academies and free schools don’t have to follow it.

State secondary schools (other than academies and free schools) have to provide sex education but the only topic they must cover is HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

The Sex Education Forum believes that SRE is every child’s right – a view that is backed by the UNCRC and UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women* and put forward by the Education Select Committee in their recent report ‘Life Lessons’, which recommended that SRE be made statutory in all state-funded primary and secondary schools. The independent reports into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester, Birmingham and Rotherham recommended that all schools provide SRE by trained educators.


What is the most recent SRE guidance schools should follow?

Legally, all state funded schools must pay due to regard to the Secretary of State’s SRE guidance. The latest guidance was issued in 2000.

Responding to calls for updated guidance the Sex Education Forum, Brook and the PSHE Association worked in partnership to produce supplementary advice: SRE for the 21st Century. This was neither initiated nor funded by government but Ministers have encouraged schools to use it. 


What is taught to five year olds?

SRE begins with teaching children about appropriate behaviour, safety and basic understanding of their bodies and how families care for them. Five year olds are not taught about how people have sex.

In a poll of 1000 parents of school-aged children, 78% said they wanted primary schools to teach children about the difference between safe and unwanted touch and how to speak up if someone treats them inappropriately, whilst 72% of parents felt that primary schools should educate children on what to do if they find online pictures showing private body parts or are asked to send them.


How often should SRE be taught?

There needs to be an element of SRE included in the PSHE programme for every academic year in primary and secondary school.

We recommend that PSHE has a regular place in the timetable and should not be taught purely through special ‘drop-down’ / off-timetable days. Schools have been warned against the solely ‘drop-down day’ approach by Ofsted. This approach still leaves flexibility for schools in designing their curriculum.


What sort of training is needed? Should this be initial teacher training?

All teachers need basic training in SRE and PSHE as part of initial teacher training. There should also be the option to train as a SRE/PSHE specialist teacher.

In primary and special schools all teachers need to be able to teach SRE and PSHE. In secondary school SRE needs to be taught by a subject specialist – as other subjects are – and so there needs to be an option to train as a SRE / PSHE specialist teacher. If SRE and PSHE are treated the same as other subjects the need for properly trained educators would be recognised too.


Shouldn’t it be left to parents to educate their children about sex and relationships?

Children say they want their parents to be their primary educators about sex but in reality many parents fail to play this part.

A national survey (Natsal-3) showed that fathers are the main source of information about sex for only 3% of boys. Many parents want to take more of a role in educating their children but say they need support to do so. When schools are providing good quality SRE they involve parents and this helps parents understand how they can play a part at home too.


What does the evidence say?

National and international research shows that good quality SRE has a protective function as young people who have had good SRE are more likely to choose to have sex for the first time later and are more likely to use condoms and contraception when they first have sex. In a large US study, young people who had received comprehensive SRE were less likely to describe first sex as unwanted. See ‘SRE – the evidence’ for a summary of the research evidence.