The Department for Education has published draft guidance, regulations, and a regulatory impact assessment relating to relationships and sex education (RSE) in schools and has launched a consultation seeking views on the proposals. The drafts form the first update to guidance around RSE for schools since 2000 and come ahead of the introduction of compulsory relationships and sex education in schools, currently expected to apply from 2020 to allow time for implementation.

The drafts come following an initial consultation earlier this year which in turn followed the introduction of a duty under the Children and Social Work Act 2017 on the Secretary of State for Education to ensure the provision of new subjects of Relationships Education at primary school, and Relationships and Sex Education at secondary compulsory through regulations. The Act also provided a power for the Secretary of State to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education, or elements thereof, mandatory in all schools.

The proposed curriculum will include consent, peer pressure, LGBT+ issues, social media, sexual exploitation, grooming, harassment and domestic abuse. It is designed to give children clearer information about their rights over their own bodies and their responsibilities in relation to others and to bring advice in this area up-to-date with the challenges facing children in the 21st Century.

There are also changes to the rights parents have to withdraw their child from sex education; parents will now need to seek the permission of the Headteacher to remove their child from the relevant classes, and while advice to Heads is to approve these requests in all but exceptional circumstances, they will have an opportunity to discuss the drawbacks of such an action with parents. The right to request withdrawal will also pass from parents to pupils from the point at which they are three school terms away from the age of 16; at this point pupils who have previously been withdrawn from RSE can choose to opt back in.

Health education will also be made compulsory under the new regime, with children taught to build mental resilience, as well as how to recognise when their peers are struggling with mental health issues. In a move met by criticism from some quarters, other strands of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) such as workplace readiness and financial literacy will not be compulsory.

The consultation opened on 19 July and will run until 7 November 2018. It asks whether the draft statutory guidance provides sufficient information and support to schools in teaching the subjects, and for views on the regulatory impact assessment relating to the subjects. It also seeks respondents’ views on the department’s decision to make Health Education compulsory, rather than all of PSHE.

The responses to the consultation will help the Department finalise the draft regulations and statutory guidance before the regulations are put before Parliament and the guidance published. It is anticipated that the finalised RSE curriculum will be available to schools from September 2019 but will not become mandatory until September 2020.