Relationships and Sex Education

Thank you for contacting me about Relationships and Sex Education (RSE).

The Department for Education has sought views from parents, teachers, children and other key groups in developing subject content and it has used this feedback to produce the draft guidance, which has now been subject to further consultation.

Under the proposals, all pupils will study compulsory Health Education as well as new reformed Relationships Education in primary school and Relationships and Sex Education in secondary school. Under the updated guidance, which will become compulsory from September 2020, teachers will talk to primary school pupils in an age appropriate way about the features of healthy friendships, family relationships and other relationships they may encounter. At secondary school teachers will build on this foundation and, at an appropriate time, extend teaching to include intimate relationships.

The new measures allow parents to retain the right to withdraw their children from sex education within RSE in secondary schools (other than sex education in the National Curriculum as part of science). However, this will not apply to relationships education at primary school level.

Teachers are not expected to promote or endorse views which go against their beliefs. In addition, the Teacher Standards state that all teachers should show tolerance and respect for the rights of others, not undermine fundamental British values, and ensure that their personal beliefs are not expressed in ways which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.

I am encouraged that the Department for Education has been clear that schools will have flexibility over how they deliver these subjects so they can develop approaches that meet the needs of their local communities and, in the case of faith schools, in accordance with their faith.

I appreciate the fact that there may be concerns from religious organisations about their right to maintain their own beliefs in religious schools. In fact, on the specific issue of marriage, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 includes measures to protect and promote religious freedom by enabling religious organisations to act in line with their doctrines and beliefs. This principle, that teachers are entitled to express their own faith or beliefs as long as they do so in a sensitive, balanced and professional way that complies with the Teacher Standards, extends to all other topics in this area of the curriculum. Teachers in religious schools already do this on a range of issues such as divorce and contraception. Faith schools do need to cover the content in the RSE guidance, ensuring that pupils have the knowledge and facts they need, as well as developing an understanding of faith perspectives. 

I am sure that this issue will remain a topic of lively debate and I will continue to reflect constituents' views in my meetings with Ministers.

Thank you again for contacting me.

Craig Whittaker MP

March 2019