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Sex, relationships and health education: what needs to be taught in schools?

Earlier this year, the Government published what they think should be included in the new Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education curriculum. Here's our response to the consultation.

What's happened so far?

Last year the Government announced that they were going to look at what is taught in schools around relationships and sex education, in what is usually called PSHE for the first time since 2000!

They did a consultation in January this year where they asked young people, teachers and charities like us to tell them what should be taught about relationships, sex education and health.

We thought that: 

  • There should be a focus on mental health and wellbeing 
  • A promotion of body confidence and self-esteem
  • Education about sex and pressure  
  • Information and skills for healthy relationships online 
  • The curriculum to be delivered in a trauma-informed way by professionals

What does the Department for Education think should be included?

In July this year, the Department for Education published draft guidance which includes everything that they think should be included in the curriculum.  Under the proposals, all pupils will study compulsory health education as well as new reformed relationships education in primary school and relationships and sex education in secondary school.

The draft guidance includes topics to be covered under the headings of families, respectful relationships, including friendships; online and media; being safe; and for secondary school, intimate and sexual relationships, including sexual health. For Health Education, they have proposed mental wellbeing; internet safety and harms; physical health and fitness; healthy eating; drugs and alcohol; health and prevention; basic first aid and changing adolescents’ bodies. 

Our response

From July until November they asked for views about whether what they are proposing children and young people will be taught about is enough to ensure that they leave school with the right knowledge to have positive relationships and to lead a healthy lifestyle.

As part of our response, we have consulted with young people that are either currently at school, or who have recently left school, and have lived experience of mental health issues. Our response is therefore based on this and insights that we have gained from previous work with young people. 

The draft guidance covered a broad range of topics that we believe are essential to ensure that young people leave school with the skills to live a healthy life, including the following elements:

  • Mental wellbeing education that increases children’s awareness of their emotions from an early age.
  • Recognition of adverse childhood experiences in secondary school.
  • Recognition of the positive effects that good relationships have on mental wellbeing but also teaching children to recognise when relationships are not right. 
  • Building digital resilience and giving young people the skills to be able to have positive and healthy interactions online including, how to balance lives and identities on- and off-line; a focus on cyberbullying and pressures related to online interactions; and how to be responsible and empathetic online.

However, there are really important elements that we think also need to be included:

  • We recommend that there is a focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing across the whole RSE and Health Education curriculum and that mental health is not treated as a standalone topic. Additionally, the RSE and Health Education courses would be most effective when implemented as part of a whole school approach to prioritise mental wellbeing in schools.
  • Greater attention needs to be paid to providing pupils with skills so that they know how to respond to low mental wellbeing or symptoms of mental illnesses including stress management, how to manage symptoms of anxiety disorders and awareness of what help is available when a young person or their friend experience a mental health crisis.
  • It is imperative that appropriate resources are available for teachers to ensure that the topics around mental wellbeing and mental illness are taught in a safe way and that teachers have received mental health training.
  • We recommend that trauma-informed teaching is applied across both primary and secondary school, with the additional inclusion of bereavement and loss, young carers and LGBT issues.
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