All children and young people have the right to high-quality, comprehensive relationships and sex education (RSE).
RSE should promote good sexual health and equal and enjoyable relationships.
We believe RSE should be a statutory subject for children and young people of all ages at all primary and secondary schools. It should be taught, as a part of wider personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, in timetabled lessons by regularly trained staff and schools should work closely with parents to ensure the best possible outcomes.
What's the current situation?
Evidence shows that young people who learn about sex and relationships mainly at school are less likely to report poor sexual health outcomes.
They're also more likely to delay sex, less likely to experience a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and less likely to report unsafe, distressing or non-consensual sex.
Despite this, at present young people are not receiving the information they need when they need it. Older pupils frequently say that relationships and sex education was ‘too little, too late and too biological’, while a 2016 survey by Sex Education Forum showed that almost a quarter of girls started their periods before being taught about them in school.
This Sex Education Forum briefing (PDF) has more information on the evidence base for relationships and sex education.
From September 2020, all secondary schools will be required to teach relationships and sex education. All primary schools will be required to teach relationship education.
Guidance for schools, which is currently being reviewed, covers a range of topics including LGBT inclusivity, consent and social media.
Compulsory, comprehensive and inclusive relationships and sexuality education will be introduced in Wales in 2022. The planned changes mean the subject will be taught to children from the age of five.
The Scottish Government has published statutory guidance on relationships, sexual health and parenthood education in state-maintained schools, but it's not compulsory and faith schools, which teach one in five pupils in Scotland, are allowed to follow their own guidance.
RSE is included on a statutory basis within the Northern Irish curriculum. Although grant-aided schools are required to develop a policy on relationships and sexuality education, this is based on the ethos of the school and there is evidence to suggest a large number of schools do not have a policy in place.
What we want
RSE to be taught in all schools
The evidence around RSE is clear. Young people who learn about relationships and sex mainly at school are less likely to report poor sexual health outcomes.
Despite this, the delivery of RSE in schools around the UK is inconsistent and many children and young people don't currently receive the RSE they need and deserve.
We believe RSE should be a statutory subject, which is taught in planned and timetabled lessons by regularly trained teachers.
RSE to meet the needs of young people
- RSE should be based on reliable, evidence-based information. It should cover the law and include learning about how young people can access further advice, information and services.
- RSE should provide children and young people with the knowledge and skills they need to recognise and enjoy safe and equal relationships and enjoy their sexuality.
- RSE should recognise the needs of all children, and contribute towards combatting the bullying of young people of different genders, sexual orientations, minority ethnic groups and those with physical or learning disabilities, which research suggests is widespread.
Schools to engage with parents
Parents have an important role to play in talking to their children about sex and relationships.
Children and young people from families in which sex and relationships are openly discussed are more likely to delay the age at which they first have sex, to have fewer partners, and to use contraception when they do have sex.
Schools should encourage the involvement of parents in the development of RSE policies and parents should be made aware of the content of RSE in schools, through the publication of a clear statement of their policy.
This not only provide parents with necessary information about what their children will be taught, but if parents are familiar with what their children are being taught, it has the potential to enhance RSE by increasing opportunities for discussion about sex and relationships between parents and children.