New RSE and Health Education guidelines give subjects “status they deserve”

The Department for Education (DfE) guidelines for Relationships Education in primary schools, Sex Education in secondary schools and Health Education for all ages are a welcome development that support Headteachers in giving these subjects the status they deserve.

Having contributed to the consultation, and personally met with the DfE to explore the best possible approaches to make RSE more relevant to modern life, I am delighted with the overall outcome. Our interest is mainly within primary education, of course, and getting the right building blocks in place to support children in today’s world. My view is the new guidelines give us a recognised platform to do just that – and I am in total agreement with what schools are required to have in place for September 2020.

We now know that primary children will be taught age-appropriate online safety – including what to do if they come across something they are uncomfortable with, the importance of respect for others even when posting anonymously, and the dangers of talking to strangers online. We also know that primary children will learn how to look after their own mental wellbeing and to recognise when their classmates might be struggling, as well as covering nutrition, the importance of staying active and spending time outdoors, and getting enough sleep. I am pleased to say that 1decision is fully set up to support these guidelines.

The guidelines fit the overall ethos of the proposed new Ofsted inspection framework, which is currently out to consultation. Importantly they acknowledge that personal development cannot be assessed in a uniform way, that all children are different and develop at different rates, and that the best way for children to thrive as individuals is not to be limited by a previous system that was obsessed with statistics and data.

I have, however, been disappointed to read what I consider to be somewhat narrow media headlines focusing on how primary school children will be taught about gay and transgender relationships as part of compulsory lessons, which really only serves to alarm a proportion of parents who will inevitably not welcome it. They have also chosen to link the guidelines to a protest among more than 300 parents and children in Birmingham who are unhappy that lessons on homosexuality and gender will be taught, as well as the petition signed by over 100,000 people objecting to the RSE curriculum.

Many school communities will be distracted and swayed by these stories, and we all have a responsibility to make a stand on the wider focus of learning and the societal issues the guidelines address. Nobody can say the teaching of sexual content, cyber safety and mental health are not important. Yet here we are focusing on LGBT issues when RSE and Health Education encompass so much more. The message should be about equality, diversity and inclusion – that we are all unique in some way and this should be embraced – rather than reinforcing divisions around male/female, black/white, gay/straight and so on. Children need to 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 training and resources to ensure teachers are well prepared ahead of the subjects becoming mandatory. This commitment to funding, together with the guidelines, offer autonomy and flexibility for schools to commission the best possible learning resources to support the requirements for RSE and Health Education. September 2020 is only 18 months away and schools should have clarity now as to when exactly they will be able to access this funding. For all the promise and potential created by the new guidelines published, this is 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