Schools to teach about same-sex relationships and gender identity under new sex and relationships education plan · PinkNews

The government’s new guidance for Relationships and Sex Education in England directs schools to teach about LGBT issues.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds on Thursday published a draft of revised guidance for the teaching of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), which will become compulsory in all schools across the country from September 2020.

The guidance, which was last updated in 2000, has been significantly re-written to include teaching about same-sex relationships and gender identity, as well as issues relating to consent and staying safe online.

A classroom (Stock image via Pexels)

Under the proposals, Relationships Education in primary schools would provide children with the basic understanding of diverse structure of families and the types of relationships they are likely to encounter.

The draft guidance states: “By the end of primary school, pupils should know that others’ families, either in school or in the wider world, sometimes look different from their family, but that they should respect those differences and know that other children’s families are also characterised by love and care for them.”

The guidance for secondary schools adds: “Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way.

“All pupils should feel that the content is relevant to them and their developing sexuality.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity should be explored at a timely point and in a clear, sensitive and respectful manner.

“When teaching about these topics, it must be recognised that young people may be discovering or coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity. There should be an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships.

“This should be integrated appropriately into the RSE programme, rather than addressed separately or in only one lesson.”

The document adds: “Schools are free to determine how they address LGBT specific content, but the Department recommends that it is integral throughout the programmes of study.

“As with all RSE teaching, schools should ensure that their teaching is sensitive, age-appropriate and delivered with reference to the law.”

The guidelines only apply in England. The Welsh government recently announced that it would make LGBT-inclusive relationships and sexuality education compulsory in all schools – whereas Hinds has suggested faith schools may  keep the right to exempt themselves from aspects.

The Scottish government has also backed LGBT-inclusive SRE following the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds (Jack Taylor/Getty)

Hinds said: “I want to make sure that our children are able to grow up to become happy and well-rounded individuals who know how to deal with the challenges of the modern world. Part of this is making sure they are informed about how to keep themselves safe and healthy and have good relationships with others.

“Many of today’s problems did not exist when we last gave schools guidance on how to teach Relationships and Sex Education 18 years ago. The action we’re taking is important to help support teachers and schools design a curriculum that will enrich their pupils in an age appropriate way.

“Good physical and mental health is also at the heart of ensuring young people are ready for the adult world. By making health education compulsory we are giving young people the tools they need to be ready to thrive when they leave school.”

He added: “A guiding principle here is that children and young people at age-appropriate points need to know about the laws relating to relationships and sex that govern our society, so that they can act appropriately and can be safe.

“This includes LGBT relationships, which is a strong feature of the new subject at age-appropriate points.”

Although the subject is mandatory, Hinds said that the guidance “leaves flexibility for schools” to change teachings “bearing in mind their age and religious backgrounds… by reflecting on the teachings of their faith.”

Labour’s Angela Rayner called on Hinds to ensure that LGBT issues were “integrated into the curriculum and not an optional extra”.

Hinds also said parents will keep the right to withdraw their children from sex education – but children will be able to opt themselves back in to lessons ahead of turning 16.

The Conservative minister said: “I propose to give parents the right to request that their child be withdrawn from sex education delivered as part of RSE. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the request should be granted until three terms before the pupil reaches 16.

“At that point, if the child wishes to receive sex education, the headteacher should ensure they receive it in one of those three terms. This preserves the parents’ right but balances it with the child’s right to opt in once they are competent to do so.”

Responding to concerns, he clarified: “The only part it’s possible to withdraw from is the sex part of relationships and sex education.”

Labour MP Sarah Champion welcomed the government’s announcement, but warned: “Guidance alone is not enough. The Government needs to provide Teachers with training and resources to enable relationship education to be as engaging as possible.

“It is vital that all children feel that the new relationship and sex education guidance is relevant to them. Some pupil will have LGBT parents or be LGBT themselves.

“In The Terrance Higgins Trust’s research report ‘Shhh… No Talking’ published in 2016, 95% of the young people surveyed had not learned about LGBT sex and relationships.

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“The new guidance addresses this past failure and will go a long way to creating a more inclusive and supportive society.”.

Chairs in a classroom

Hatti Smart of National Student Pride, said: ‘This is wonderful news for the LGBT+ young people who have been feeling marginalized and left out of the current curriculum. We welcome the Education secretary’s words.

“But we now need to know if LGBT content will be part of the compulsory guidance and during the 12-week consultation. We hope as many LGBT+ voices as possible take part to ensure this happens with no-opt outs for any schools on LGBT inclusive RSE, including faith schools.

“We see the power of talking about your identity from a young age every year at our event. So introducing positive conversations about your sex and gender identity it at an age where teen angst is at its highest is so valuable.

“In the years after section 28 which banned ‘promoting homosexuality,’ this will finally make a significant step into making young LGBT+ people feel part of the conversation at school and help them shape their identity safely.”

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: “We can’t praise the Government enough for this progressive advance. Children are not the possessions of their parents but human beings with their own rights. Government is right to recognise this and bring us one step closer to making sure every young person is healthy, happy, and safe.

“We hope the Government now follows up this announcement by making similar moves for young people under the age of 16 with respect to religious education and collective worship, where the law now lags behind and that Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish politicians take heed and make similar moves with respect to their own curriculums.”

Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan said: “We welcome the proposed guidance, and its focus on the issues Barnardo’s has campaigned for such as consent, healthy relationships and staying safe online. We are pleased to see emotional, reproductive and mental health included as requested by our young service users.

“It’s vital teachers have quality resources and proper training so they can deliver sensitive subjects that are age-appropriate and answer any questions children have confidently. Schools must communicate regularly with parents to help them feel comfortable about what their children are being taught.”

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