Publication of draft updated RSHE guidance for consultation

May 15, 2024 10:03:00 AM

The Department for Education has today (16 May) published its draft updated statutory guidance on relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) for consultation. The consultation period is nine weeks, after which the government will need to consider submitted evidence before publishing final guidance at some point thereafter and providing schools with adequate time to implement the changes. This is in line with its commitment to review the guidance every three years.

The PSHE Association will digest the draft guidance fully and share a considered reflection on the strengths and weaknesses with members shortly and encourage your input once we have fully considered the detail.

As always, the priority will be ensuring children and young people’s safeguarding. The current guidance was introduced in 2020 and is based on robust evidence on what is required from education to keep children safe. It had support from across the political spectrum and consensus from national safeguarding bodies, medical colleges, parents, teachers and young people on its value.

Its introduction has had a positive impact on preventative, protective education in school, and despite Covid and other challenges, PSHE education has had more focus and rigour in schools as a result. Standards are improving but we have a way to go before all schools are confident in teaching high quality RSHE. Rather than halt or reverse what progress has been made, we will be looking at whether the draft updated guidance supports schools to build on what has been achieved to date, drawing on equally robust evidence and expertise.

There are significant safeguarding challenges facing children and young people, such as the dangers of online pornography, grooming and the sharing of sexual images. We will be particularly keen to identify any areas in which we see the new guidance as being inadequate for meeting such challenges, including restriction or removal of content that undermines children’s (and parents’) right to age-appropriate, preventative and protective education.

The Department for Education must also seek engagement in the consultation from the widest possible range of parents, teachers and children and young people themselves. Our recent YouGov polling showed that parents have strong expectations when it comes to preventative education, including that:

  • Almost 9 out of 10 (87%) parents polled — including those of primary aged children — agree that schools should have a role, alongside parents and carers, in teaching children and young people facts about relationships and sex. This rises to 95% agreement for parents who felt they were well consulted by the school about what relationships and sex education covered.
  • 88% of parents feel that schools and parents should share responsibility for teaching children about digital safety issues including fake news, negative online influencers and sending/receiving sexual images. Only 5% of parents felt it was their responsibility alone.
  • 95% felt schools had a responsibility to teach about the dangers of grooming and abusive behaviour online.

Regarding young people — in order for this process to be truly robust and legitimate the Department for Education must do more to seek and incorporate their views. They, after all, are the ones negotiating today’s challenges first hand.

We would also like to remind schools that the existing statutory RSHE guidance remains in force until the updated guidance has been finalised and published post consultation, and (as with any statutory guidance) schools are given an appropriate period in which to reflect the guidance in their updated RSHE curricula.

PSHE Association Chief Executive Jonathan Baggaley says:

“We’ll be looking beyond the headlines to ensure this draft updated guidance doesn’t undermine children and young people’s protective, preventative education at a time of increasingly complex threats and negative influences, particularly online. It must reflect reality and the safeguarding needs of children and their parents. Children’s safety, health and wellbeing are the priority”