The new draft RSHE statutory guidance – What are the likely implications for your School Curriculum and Pupils?

The New Draft RSHE Statutory Guidance – What are the likely implications for your School Curriculum and Pupils?

Have you ever waited patiently for a Christmas or birthday gift, and despite the fact you’ve dropped hints quite openly, through various means, on what you’d like to be given and why, when it arrives it is not exactly what you’d hoped for? That was the feeling last week for many RSHE professionals.   

Whilst the new draft statutory guidance does have some interesting and welcomed features, there are also elements which seem to contradict much research and, perhaps crucially, go against what young people themselves have been saying for years about wanting more detail and earlier introduction to topics that have the potential to affect their lives. 

The important thing to remember is that this is currently draft guidance only. These changes have not yet come into force, and anyone, including parents, carers and young people, can read the draft version and respond to the consultation available here: Review of the RSHE statutory guidance – Department for Education – Citizen Space. The more people who respond, the more force there is to shape the future curriculum to support children and schools, so we at SFE do urge you to have a look and ensure your thoughts and views are heard.   

There is much press coverage and talk of political viewpoints about this guidance – but if we put any political thoughts to one side, the vital thing is to have a curriculum that prepares students for the future life they will encounter in Modern Britain as adults. Whether you teach five-year-olds or sixteen-year-olds, what they learn in RSHE is a curriculum for life. The guidance states it is about establishing “common sense” in the teaching of the subject – at SFE we would argue that is a subjective notion. 

 What’s different in this draft version? 

1. New topic coverage 

Whilst the topic headings look the same, the detail shows that there are new statements.   

Suicide Prevention is a new section, focussing mainly on avenues of support and recognising someone in distress. Sexual Harassment and sexual violence is to be covered as a topic in its own right, which is not surprising perhaps, given the changes to Keeping Children Safe in Education in recent years about this subject.   

Numerous health issues are to be covered, which were not detailed in the previous guidance, including: Menstrual and gynaecological health including endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), heavy menstrual bleeding; healthy behaviours during pregnancy; road, railway and water safety; antimicrobial resistance; vaping; and virginity testing and hymenoplasty.   

Mental health is still strongly represented and new topics include loneliness, bereavement, parenting and early years brain development and new content on gambling.  Specific new content for online issues is included around the prevalence of “deepfakes” and illegal online behaviours, particularly as relates to drug and knife supply. 

2. Age restrictions 

The government had previously said they were looking to impose age categories for the teaching of some topics. What was not known was how “strict” this would be, nor the content that would be included.   

 In our RSHE work at SFE, we recognise that a one-size fits all approach to RSHE in schools rarely works for everyone. Depending on each setting’s specific context, some content may need to be taught earlier in one setting than another. There is a nod to the need for flexibility in the draft guidance for some topics, where it is noted that certain settings might need to respond to a situation by bringing forwards the teaching of a topic – but it is framed as a reactionary move often, rather than proactively giving children information and skills in advance.  Age restrictions are, however, worded as a “should” not a “must”, so if the draft becomes permanent schools will need to argue for a curriculum that suits their community.   

The argument for having the limits is about topics not being introduced before children are mature enough to fully understand or have a context to root the learning in, which seems to ignore the skill of RSHE teachers in knowing their own school community, and in developing and using a spiral curriculum.  Equally the wording of the topic areas seems to suggest staff are holding open discussions about sexual acts in several topics – yet most school staff do not regularly engage in explicit discussion with students, as professionals restrict information to what is factual, legal and necessary to safeguard children.   

It does seem that schools serving a community where FGM has been practiced, might be able to teach about FGM risks and support available earlier than the guidance says – but it is unclear if a safeguarding disclosure would have needed to happen, rather than a proactive decision being made to support keeping all children safe.   

 Another safeguarding debate is that the guidance states that talking about the law is the starting point for some topics, such as online sexual abuse. This is potentially problematic as we know that talking predominantly about the law around sending nudes does not always keep children safe as if they have already sent a nude image or video, criminalising a child is not going to help them to disclose and seek support in getting images taken down.   

Schools are left to decide on their own policy arrangements on how to respond should a child ask a question which is outside of the age limits – so it’s important to have clearly shared this with parents to avoid difficult situations occurring. 

Here are some of the key age restrictions: 

Earliest      Year Group  Topic 
3  Risks relating to online gaming, financial harms, gaming addictions, why social media, games and apps have age restrictions 
4  Puberty and the changing adolescent body, physical and emotional changes and menstruation 
5  Sex Education limited to conception and birth and linked to NC Science content (primary schools still don’t have to teach Sex Education outside of NC Science) 
7  Facts and the law about harmful sexual behaviour, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse, grooming and stalking, forced marriage, non-consensual creation and/or distribution of an indecent image and how to get support, inappropriate online content which includes porn (but you can’t discuss details of any sexual activity) 
8  Suicide prevention, awareness of signs of low mood, accessing support 
9  Inappropriate online content, including porn, and you can discuss sexual acts at this point, discussing explicit details of violent abuse, including rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation (FGM), virginity testing and hymenoplasty, discussing explicit details of the abuse and the concepts and laws relating to domestic abuse including coercive control, emotional, sexual, economic or physical abuse, and violent or threatening behaviour, explicit discussion of acts, in the context of teaching about intimate and sexual relationships, including in relation to contraception and STIs 

3. What cannot be taught? 

This is the area that has seen the largest amount of press attention. Essentially the draft guidance proposes that no school can discuss with children about “gender identity”. Whilst older students may be taught about the Equality Act 2010’s Protected Characteristics and therefore reference that gender reassignment is a protected characteristic, talking about gender identity or that gender could be fluid or on a spectrum is described as a contested theory and the draft guidance says if staff are asked about gender identity they can only teach facts about biological sex and that legally no-one can change their gender until they are 18.   

This is the area likely to receive much criticism from pressure groups and charities, however there are also many people who support this. The outcome of the Cass Review has also strengthened the government’s viewpoint.  

The seeming inconsistencies of teaching about protected characteristics and indeed about “Life in Modern Britain” and the Fundamental British Value of Tolerance alongside professionals not even being able to enter into a discussion about gender identity are stark.  Reminders of Section 28 (a law that banned councils and schools from promoting homosexuality from 1988 to 2003) do hover in the background as this section of the draft guidance is discussed. 

4. Parents have the right to see all curriculum content 

The guidance regularly talks of parents being the first educator of their children and as such there is an emphasis on schools working with parents in terms of RSHE. Parents do not have the right to veto curriculum content, but they do have the right to see all materials (even those by third parties with a copyright logo) and there is still a right to remove a child from any sex education content up to three terms before a child turns 16 when a child could themselves choose to attend sex education lessons.   

The wording strengthening parents’ role is interesting from a safeguarding perspective as it does not recognise that some children do not receive support and education from their parents and that for some children asking a question about RSHE topics would not feel, or indeed in some cases be, safe. 

What will our experienced RSHE Advisers do for you to smooth the transition to a new version of the RSHE statutory guidance? 

  • Jo and Lucie have many years’ experience of teaching and advising in RSHE. We cover all phases of education, and our work is proven to be effective. If you have questions – we will do our best to answer them!  Contact us on with any questions. 
  • Given the news coverage about this draft guidance, it is likely parents will have questions. We are creating a resource of potential questions you’ll be asked (based on previous research completed through previous versions of guidance for RSHE and RSE) with suggested answers, as well as providing advice on working with parents during the consultation period to maintain positive relationships and to help them to better understand the process. 
  • When the initial statutory guidance for RSHE was introduced we launched an incredibly successful “roadmap” campaign of resources and webinars for schools to use.  We want to create something similar for the changes as they come into force.  Our “milestones” suite of resources and webinars will support you to implement the new statutory guidance with confidence. 
  • We can offer a Quality Assurance visit to check your current RSHE provision and to work with you to prepare for changes needed. 
  • We are also going to create a bonus issue for our free safeguarding newsletter subscribers, which will detail safeguarding challenges posed by the draft content with suggested routes to navigate your way through.  Relationships Education is a huge part of safeguarding in the curriculum.  
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We hope this blog has helped you to start to navigate through the suggested changes and don’t forget, we are always here to help. 

About The Authors

Jo PerrinJo Perrin - Adviser, Services For Education

Jo Perrin is a seasoned Education Adviser with a strong background in safeguarding. She has held key roles as a Designated Safeguarding Lead and pastoral lead in the education sector. Facilitating training to enhance the knowledge and skills of professionals working directly with children and young people is her passion.

With a wealth of experience in teaching PSHE and expertise in childhood trauma from her time as a foster carer, Jo is dedicated to supporting organisations that work with children and vulnerable adults on safeguarding issues. She is actively involved in professional safeguarding groups in the West Midlands and is currently collaborating on a research project with colleagues from the University of Birmingham and the NHS focusing on FGM awareness within communities. Jo’s has worked as a West Midlands' Adviser for national PSHE resources, presented at the Sex Education Forum National Members' Event and authored an advertorial for PSM magazine and an article for SEND magazine.

Jo's expertise extends to training on topics such as Safer Recruitment and Mental Health at Work. She is also a facilitator for the nationally recognised NPQSL qualification, supporting senior leaders in education. Her contributions to publications and development of resources for RSE provision have been well-received by schools nationally and internationally.

With her extensive experience and dedication to professional development, Jo Perrin is a highly respected figure in the field of education. Her guidance on safeguarding, mental health awareness, personal development, and relationships education is highly valued within the industry.

Lucie WelchLucie Welch – Adviser, Services For Education

Lucie Welch has worked in the field of Primary Education for the last 15 years, holding the positions of Assistant Head of School, Designated Safeguarding Lead, Attendance Lead and Designated Teacher for Looked After Children. Through working across several local authorities and within multi-academy trusts, Lucie has garnered a passion for safeguarding and supporting children and young people to enable them to thrive.

At Services For Education, Lucie is an integral part of the Safeguarding team, sharing her expertise with schools, colleges, trusts, and other educational settings across the city of Birmingham and beyond. Dedicated to improving safeguarding practices in an actionable and impactful way, Lucie works closely with settings to provide bespoke training, supports with reflection on their own practices during Safeguarding audits and always strives to contribute to a better learning environment for all children. Through delivery of statutory training for DSLs and Safer Recruitment, Lucie works with colleagues in all age ranges and is a source of expertise within these areas.

Lucie also wears other important hats within the School Support Team. Not only is she dedicated to ensuring the safety and well-being of students through her role in safeguarding, but she also plays a key part in the PSHE/RSE and Health for Life teams. Additionally, Lucie partners with the Best Practice Network to deliver the Early Career Framework, supporting new teachers in their professional development.

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