The DfE’s recently published guidelines for relationships education in primary schools, relationships and sex education (RSE) in secondary schools and health education for all ages are a welcome development that will support headteachers in giving these subjects the status they deserve.
As of September 2020, primary age children will be taught age-appropriate online safety, including what to do when encountering something they’re uncomfortable with; the importance of treating others with respect, even when posting anonymously; and the dangers of talking to strangers online.
They will also learn how to look after their own mental wellbeing and recognise when their classmates might be struggling, alongside lessons on nutrition, staying active and the importance of both spending time outdoors and getting enough sleep.
The guidelines also currently fit the overall ethos of Ofsted’s proposed new inspection framework, which at the time of writing is out to consultation.
I have, however, been disappointed to read what I consider to be the somewhat slanted headlines focusing on how primary school children will be ‘taught about gay and transgender relationships as part of compulsory lessons’.
The DfE guidelines have also been cited in the context of a protest against a Birmingham primary school by parents and community members unhappy at the purported ‘teaching of lessons on homosexuality and gender’, as well as a petition calling for parents to be able to opt their child out of RSE lessons, which has so far been signed by more than 115,000 people.
We all have a responsibility to make a stand for the wider focus of learning and societal issues these guidelines are intended to address. Nobody can say that the teaching of sexual consent, cyber safety and mental health aren’t important – yet most of the discourse seems to focus on LGBT issues, when RSE and health education encompass so much more.
The message sent from schools should centre on equality, diversity and inclusion – that we’re all unique in some way and that this should be embraced. Our children must be taught to be accepting of differences and opinions.
The DfE has said it will provide £6 million of funding in 2019-20 for a school support package to cover the training and resources teachers will need to ensure they’re well prepared ahead of the subjects becoming mandatory.
This funding commitment, alongside the guidelines themselves, would seem to offer schools the autonomy and flexibility to commission high quality learning resources to support the new RSE and health education requirements.
September 2020 is only 16 months away. Schools need clarity now as to when exactly they’ll be able to access this funding. For all the new guidelines’ promise and potential, this remains the biggest question we do not yet to know the answer to.
Hayley Sherwood is creator of 1decision primary learning resources, part of Headway Education.