Today (24 October 2023) the Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP will write to schools to re-emphasise Government advice that RSE materials be shared with parents. An open letter addressed to parents has also stressed their rights to know what is being taught in school RSE lessons.
The Government letters to schools and parents come at a time when children and young people’s entitlement to high quality RSE is only partially being met. Over half of young people aged 16 and 17 responding to a recent survey (SEF, 2023) said they had learnt nothing or not enough about mandatory topics such as healthy relationships and pornography.
Since mandatory RSE guidance was introduced in 2019, schools have been required to consult with parents about their RSE provision, and as with all subjects, to be open and transparent about their curriculum. Schools have also been encouraged to listen to the views of their pupils, and many have shared pupil’s perspectives with their parent community as part of a joined-up consultation process.
Teachers can draw on a wide range of materials and expert organisations to support their RSE planning and teaching and it is competent, confident teachers who are the primary resource for RSE. However many educators currently do not feel supported in covering the full breadth of topics children and young people need information about. With adequate training, they will be able to make the best possible choices about when, how, and which experts and resources to involve and use.
Sharing RSE materials with parents is an opportunity to explain how the materials are used, how RSE is actually taught, the type of questions that children and young people ask, and how teachers adapt to the unique classroom contexts they work in, as no two lessons will be exactly the same. Opportunity to see RSE materials needs to be just one part of ongoing information sharing with parents about the school provision. Regular communications help encourage parents in their role at home, supporting their child to stay safe, be informed about their bodies, develop healthy, kind and respectful social interactions and friendships. Parents and schools form a crucial partnership to meet children and young people’s needs.
Chief Executive at Sex Education Forum, Lucy Emmerson, said:
“The Sex Education Forum has consistently championed meaningful engagement between schools and parents on the delivery of RSE. Our research shows that parents are largely supportive of these lessons and want schools to address the complex issues facing their children and young people.
“Regular communication between school and home helps parents to anticipate when lessons are taking place and what is being covered. Ideally, this equips parents with the confidence to talk about these issues at home, so RSE lessons aren’t just done in the classroom alone. When schools and parents work together, the benefits of RSE are greatest and young people can get the skills and knowledge they need to navigate an ever-changing world.
On the importance of listening to the views of young people, Emmerson said:
“Young people consistently tell us they want high-quality and regular RSE lessons and recognise the need to involve parents in discussing these topics. Yet, more than four in ten young people say that their school didn’t give their parents enough information about RSE.
“We want everyone involved in the delivery of RSE, to have confidence in these lessons. The Sex Education Forum urges the government to listen directly to young people and the research evidence as part of its review into RSE and ensure the benefits of RSE can be felt in schools and at home”.
The Sex Education Forum will continue to engage with the Department for Education as part of its RSE review, which we now expect will produce draft guidance for public consultation in the coming weeks.
References and further information