Relationships and sexuality education Relationships and sexuality education (RSE) plays a vital role in enhancing learners’ well-being and safety and will be mandatory.
Children begin to learn about relationships long before they start school. As soon as they enter the social world they will be encountering and interacting with complex and often contradictory messages about gender, relationships and sexuality that will shape their day-to-day lives and imagined futures. These messages come from advertising, books, music, social media and television, and from family members, peers and communities. What children and young people are learning and experiencing can include misconceptions and sometimes challenge adult assumptions or expectations.
Through RSE, learners should be supported to explore and discuss information and values about relationships and sexuality that they are already exposed to and often struggle to navigate for themselves.
Schools have an important role for prevention and protection, discussion and responding to learners’ questions and needs. They have the potential to create safe and empowering environments that build upon learners’ own formal and informal learning and experiences, offline and online. This enables learners to reflect and express their views and feelings on a range of RSE issues. Central to this is acknowledging, discussing and engaging with a diverse range of perspectives: locally, nationally and internationally.
Relationships and sexuality education aims to gradually empower learners to build the knowledge, skills and ethical values for understanding how relationships, sex, gender and sexuality shape their own and other people’s lives. It seeks to support learners’ rights to enjoy equitable, safe, healthy and fulfilling relationships throughout their lives. This includes the ability to recognise, understand and speak out about discrimination and violence and know how and where to seek support, advice and factual information on a range of RSE issues.
It is proposed that schools will have a duty to provide RSE. Further guidance will be published before 2022 to support this, including guidance on the topics and learning that support RSE and how each Area can contribute to these.
Relationships and sexuality education should include developmentally appropriate learning around the following thematic areas.
Rights and equity Learners should develop an understanding of how rights related to sex, gender, sexuality and relationships contribute to the freedom, equity, dignity, well-being and safety of all people. Central to this learning should be an understanding of the opportunities and challenges people face in exercising their rights across the world.
Relationships Learners should develop an understanding of how different types of safe, consensual, healthy and fulfilling relationships can be formed and maintained. Central to this learning should be recognising and understanding the diversity of relationships around the world, and over the life course.
Sex, gender and sexuality Learners should develop an understanding of sex, gender and sexuality. This includes how biology, society and culture shape our sense of self and relationships with others. Central to this learning should be recognising the diversity of gender and sexual identity, expression, behaviour and representation, including LGBTQ+ diversity, and how social and cultural understandings of sex, gender and sexuality have changed over time and continue to evolve.
Bodies and body image Learners should develop an understanding of the human body and how it changes over time, including people’s feelings about their bodies, and their sexual and reproductive capacities and functions. Central to this learning is recognising the diversity of the human body, and how understanding of human bodies is shaped by society, the law, science and technology.
Sexual health and well-being Learners should develop an understanding of the positive role of sexuality in human life and a gradual awareness of personal sexual health and well-being. Central to this learning is appreciating the different ways that people express sexuality across cultures and contexts, including myths about sexual health and well-being.
Violence, safety and support Learners should develop an understanding of the social, emotional, physical and legal nature and impact of gender-based and sexual violence, including online. Central to this learning should be supporting learners to understand and manage change, conflict, risk and pressures of different kinds. Building learners’ confidence to speak out and know how to seek advice and support is integral to RSE.
Principles for embedding RSE in the curriculum Learning should be underpinned by a collective whole-school approach so that the following principles will be supported, reinforced and embedded across the school and wider community.
Learning should be:
rights and gender-equity based so that learners can develop an understanding of how rights related to relationships, sex, gender and sexuality contribute to the freedom, equity, dignity, well-being and safety of all people
empowering to enable practitioners to create an affirmative and transformative RSE curriculum that enhances learner voice and agency. This can be achieved by inviting learners to advance social justice for gender, sexual and relationship equity and well-being
relevant and developmentally appropriate to ensure that all RSE provision recognises and responds to learners’ own capacities and needs. It will not assume, but attune to and build upon learners’ evolving knowledge and experience
co-produced, offering learners, parents and carers the opportunity to discuss and engage with decisions about learning and teaching in RSE. Provision should also draw on specialist services and expertise, and engage with local communities. This should be mindful of the different perspectives and backgrounds within a local community
creative so that RSE provision can benefit from how creative approaches have the potential to make ethical, safe and engaging spaces for learners to feel, think, question, embody and share their thoughts on sensitive topics
holistic and provided across the curriculum because relationships and sexuality education is a broad, inter-disciplinary and complex area that includes biological, social, psychological, spiritual, ethical and cultural dimensions that evolve over the lifespan
inclusive to ensure that all learners see themselves and each other in what they learn about RSE. Central here will be recognising and valuing diversity and difference across the domains of sex, gender, sexuality and relationships, and ensuring that RSE provision is inclusive of LGBTQ+ lives
protective and preventative so that learners are supported to understand and cope with change, conflicts and pressure; the knowledge to recognise discrimination and violence; and the confidence to seek support and advice on equalities and equity, health and violence regarding relationships, sex, gender and sexuality. Crucial here will be working in partnership with specialist services and expertise.