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Relationships and sex education

Relationships and sex education (in Solihull we refer to RSE as opposed to SRE in order to reflect that learning about relationships begins from the moment children are born) provides planned opportunities for learning about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up, relationships, sex, human sexuality and sexual health. Some aspects are taught in science and are therefore statutory, whilst others are taught as part of personal, social and health education (PSHE).

Current requirements:

There are a number of requirements that all schools must adhere to when providing RSE, alongside the statutory guidance (Sex and Relationship Education Guidance (DfEE 0116/2000) (link opens in a new tab or page)) and the supplementary advice, Sex and Relationships for the 21st Century (Sex Ed Forum) (link opens in a new tab or page) published in 2013. There is no statutory requirement for RSE in independent schools. RSE plays an important part in fulfilling the statutory duties all schools have to meet including obligations pertaining to safeguarding (Children Act 2004). Ofsted is clear that schools must have a preventative programme that enables pupils to learn about safety and risks in relationships.

In the recent review of the National Curriculum, the government has stated that ‘sex and relationship education (SRE) is an important part of PSHE education’ (Guidance – PSHE education, DfE, 2013 (link opens in a new tab or page)). In any school that provides RSE, parents have the right to withdraw their children from all or part of it (excluding withdrawal from sex education in National Curriculum science (link opens in a new tab or page)) although very few choose to exercise that right.

The Association of Science Education and the PSHE Association have produced a joint policy statement on Human Development and Reproduction in the Primary Curriculum. The purpose of the document is to inform teachers, school leaders and governors about what the science curriculum requires in respect to sex education and the vocabulary that supports teaching and learning.

It should be noted that teaching about puberty is now part of the Programmes of Study for Science at Key Stage 2, within the Year 5 Programme of Study. For further clarification, please see the Joint briefing by the Association of Science Education and the PSHE Association.

Changes to Legislation:

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 enshrines ‘relationships education’ for primary schools and ‘relationships and sex education’ for secondary schools in law. This will also apply to academies and independent schools. Further details are contained within this DfE policy statement. Schools will be expected to deliver these changes from 2019/20. For additional information around the timeline for developments and links to statements from the Catholic Education Service and Church of England’s Lead Bishop on Education, please see the Sex Ed Forum website.

The Sex Education Forum and PSHE Association have launched their joint roadmap to statutory RSE, with support from five education unions.

The roadmap is freely available to all schools and outlines 10 essential steps that schools need to take ahead of September 2020, when Relationships and Sex Education becomes statutory in all schools (or Relationships Education in all primaries) alongside Health Education. The roadmap provides practical tools and advice for schools on everything from policies to resources.

Policy Support and Guidance

The Sex Education Forum have a useful ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page within which guidance and signposting are given that will provide support in understanding what is required within a RSE policy. The framework and action plan shared by the Cornwall Healthy Schools Team is a good starting point for policy review and development.


The Sex Education Forum briefing, SRE – the evidence (link opens in a new tab or page), aims to provide an accessible and accurate summary of the research evidence relating to sex and relationships education (SRE), particularly the contribution of SRE to behaviour change.

Training opportunity

Brook and The Open University have teamed up to provide e-learning based on a research project called ‘Enduring Love?’ The e-learning will guide you through a number of topics including secrets to a lasting relationship, sex and intimacy, sex and romance, with the use of engaging activities and high-quality downloadable resources. Each module has a ‘teach it’ section which explains what can be taught in a 15 or 30 minute session on that subject.

There are many types of resources that can be selected to support work around sex and relationships education. When choosing which resources to purchase and use schools may find the following list of criteria helpful:

  • Is the resource consistent with the school’s moral and values framework for RSE?
  • Is it consistent with the school’s values, ethos and policies?
  • Is it inclusive of all pupils?
  • Does it encourage active and participatory learning on the part of the pupils?
  • Are the resources of a high quality?
  • Is the literacy level appropriate for the children?
  • Do the resources promote particular products or viewpoints – is this ethical or appropriate?
  • Does the resource cover the issues and topics that need to be addressed?
  • Is the resource appropriate for the age and development of the pupils?
  • Does the resource promote positive images and challenge stereotypes?
  • Can the materials be adapted for pupils in the school?
  • Will staff feel able to use the resource confidently and effectively? Are there training implications?
  • Is the information given accurate, balanced and up to date?

The following links may be useful when selecting appropriate resources:

Sex Education Forum (link opens in a new tab or page) resource lists (primary and secondary)

EYFS/Key Stages 1 & 2 Relationships and Sex Education Resources

Key Stages 3, 4 and 5 Relationships and Sex Education Resources

Sensitive issues

By its very nature, relationships and sex education may well give rise to issues that some may consider being sensitive or controversial.  When teaching about any sensitive issue, it is important to understand the prior learning pupils are bringing to the classroom. Techniques such as draw and write or ‘first thoughts’ activities can be used to give an insight into pupils’ knowledge, attitudes and possible misconceptions.  Ground rules, negotiated between teachers and students, should be used when dealing with sensitive/controversial issues thus creating a safe and supportive climate for discussion

Questions may arise at any time so all staff need to be equipped with strategies to enable them to respond appropriately. Direct answers are not always necessary and responses should be in keeping with the school’s moral and values framework whilst taking into consideration the age, maturity of the child and the context of the question. It may be more appropriate to answer some questions on a one to one basis rather than with the whole class.

The attachments and links below provide further resources and information which may be of use when teaching about a range of potentially sensitive issues including:

Pornography and the sharing of sexual imagery (‘sexting’)

Teenage Partner/domestic abuse

Female genital mutilation

Sexuality and gender expression 




Body Image