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Why delaying compulsory RSE in schools is wrong

Teacher in class with pupils using laptops

In June, the Department for Education informed schools that the new RSE and RSHE curriculum would no longer be compulsory from September.

Teaching of the dual curriculum – Relationship and Health Education in primary schools and Relationship, Sex and Health Education in secondaries – had been a statutory for schools from the autumn term in the 2020-21 school year.

But following the COVID-19 outbreak, the DfE advised schools to assess whether “lost time and competing priorities” mean they are not adequately prepared to approach the subjects from September. With this, a compulsory deadline was pushed back to the summer term in 2021.

Parent Zone believes this is a terrible mistake – depriving children of crucial education in a moment when they need it most.

In February 2019, we welcomed the news that the government had published new guidelines for compulsory RSE and RSHE in schools. In fact, we felt it did not go far enough – by not making sex education compulsory for primary schools, and by allowing parents to ‘opt out’ of their child’s RSE rather than providing them information and resources to help them understand why it is so important.

So we are disappointed and concerned that RSE and RSHE have now been deprioritised in light of lockdown. Rather than delaying, this is the time to be prioritising.

Children have had their education significantly disrupted since March, despite the many possibilities of remote learning. By delaying compulsory lessons until April 2021, children potentially face a full year without a crucial strand of PSHE education.

This year, the UK has spent more time online than perhaps at any point in its history, during a confusing and distressing time. Understanding both online relationships and being resilient to online harms is essential – especially for the young and vulnerable.

And while many parents and carers have been doing a brilliant job of homeschooling their children, there is a marked difference to core subjects such as English and maths. RSE and RSHE are subjects that require the safe spaces and the objectivity that only a school can provide. For some children, that is especially important.

Children need to be taught about the complex links between sex and relationships, both in the online and offline world. This is certainly the case in light of their lockdown experiences – and as they return to a more familiar way of life. Children should be supported to understand and learn from these experiences and helped to recover, as outlined in the UKCIS Digital Resilience Framework.

But while RSE and RSHE education are not compulsory from September, that of course does not mean schools cannot include it within their own curriculum.

We know that schools will be putting plans in place to support pupils when they return. They will be assessing the considerable impact of the experiences of 2020 and working hard to address them. RSE and RSHE are a vital part of this recovery process.

By delaying the statutory introduction of this subject, the DfE isn't supporting schools to adjust – it is taking away a vital tool in their armoury.

Image: Monkey Business/

If you would like to know about how a resilience-based approach can help your whole school community stay safer and make the most of their digital opportunities, find out about free Parent Zone Membership and the resources available here.