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It’s Time for PSHE and RSE to Step into the Limelight…

For those of us working in the fields of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), September 2020 promised a lot.

For the first time, Relationships (Sex – for secondary schools) and Health Education was to be mandatory, the statutory guidance was issued and schools were preparing to plan and teach the content – and this covers a lot of what PSHE converts have been promoting for years.

Then Covid-19 happened… and timelines became more fluid whilst the subject content became more vital than ever.

So is it still statutory from September 2020 to teach this content?

In the summer, the DfE issued this guidance which recognised the fact that schools were not fully open during the Summer Term of 2020, meaning some schools might not have fully completed their preparations, and given these “challenging circumstances,” schools have been given some flexibility in when they need to fully implement the statutory guidance.

Whilst schools are encouraged to implement fully as soon as possible, you have until Summer Term 2021 to start teaching the requirements.

However, this doesn’t mean schools can just “kick the can down the road” – you should still be able to demonstrate, at any point during this academic year, how you will cover the entirety of the curriculum in the future.

There is an emphasis on taking a “phased approach” and starting to teach some aspects of the guidance as soon as possible (topics such as mental health and wellbeing are suggested priorities).

This seems to be a fair and practical solution to the fact that some settings will have recognised a need for further staff training on certain aspects of the guidance or around PSHE pedagogy, which might have originally been planned for Summer Term 2020, but which Covid-19 restrictions made impossible.

How does this link in to what Ofsted will be looking for?

Ofsted released this guidance on 17th September 2020 explaining how inspectors will begin looking at how prepared schools are to meet the statutory guidance when full inspections resume (this is currently planned for January but obviously is subject to change dependent on the prevalence of the virus by then).

Ofsted’s stance does align with DfE guidance in that whether or not a school complies with the guidance “will not impact inspection judgments until the start of the summer term 2021,” which is logical.

However the Ofsted guidance is clear that, separate to the statutory guidance on teaching R(S)HE, its guidance focusses on settings’ compliance with the requirements under the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty more widely, to promote equality and diversity and to check on pupils’ understanding of the Protected Characteristics.

This links with wider aims of Relationships Education and was prompted by schools’ concerns, particularly in relation to teaching in schools about sexual orientation and gender reassignment. This forms part of the judgment about the “Personal Development” of pupils.

From the summer term 2021, Ofsted have been clear that secondary schools not teaching about LGBTQ issues will not be following statutory guidance and therefore would ordinarily not receive an outcome better than “Requires Improvement” for their Leadership and Management judgment.

For primary schools the R(S)HE guidance is less clear about what schools have to teach as mandatory content in this topic area; this potentially leads to a more flexible Ofsted judgment.

Therefore a primary school not teaching about LGBTQ content might not have this reflected negatively in their Leadership and Management judgment, but they would have to have shown they had otherwise fulfilled all of the requirements of the statutory guidance, which includes consultation with parents.

The outcomes of that consultation would therefore need to show that not teaching the full breadth and depth of the protected characteristics at that primary school has been decided upon after consultation with the wider school community, as being suited to the bespoke nature of the school.

However, teaching the legal rights of those who belong to a group having one of the protected characteristics is needed to adhere to the Equality Act to ensure that “no discrimination is tolerated”.

This makes it a fine line for schools to balance on occasion.

Why worry about PSHE/RSE now?

You may be thinking: “if Ofsted and the DFE are giving some leeway until Summer Term 2021 – why should I focus on PSHE/RSE now?”

Given the immense pressure on schools of all phases to ensure “no pupil gets left behind”, knowing that schools have some grace to implement their statutory R(S)HE curriculum fully might lead some to question the importance of implementing the statutory guidance now.

Some might feel there are too many other competing priorities on time in and out of the classroom.

My response would be to question why it needs to be a binary choice between academic and pastoral – we don’t want any pupils left behind emotionally or academically.

However, the reality is that unless pupils are (physically) safe and also feel (emotionally) safe, everything else – including academic attainment – is much more difficult to achieve.

R(S)HE and wider PSHE has a huge role to play at this crossroads between academic attainment and emotional support. 

Good Relationships and Health Education prepares pupils for their own future lives.

It encourages young people to recognise what features of relationships make them feel secure and happy and instils a sense of reciprocity that they give this back to others.

It signposts pupils to avenues of help and support when the relationships in their lives are not so positive.

It puts safeguarding in the heart of the curriculum (as required by both the R(S)HE statutory guidance and also by Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020) and teaches basics of the law.

Children who are and feel safe and supported are more likely to have good attendance and also have the emotional capacity to focus more on their school work and worry less about other issues in their lives.

Safeguarding issues don’t have to be taught as an isolated topic.

Also – and this is something I talk about a lot when training with DSLs in school – safeguarding issues (part of Relationships Education) don’t have to be taught as an isolated topic, they often crop up in other curriculum areas.

For example negative relationships are often at the heart of family dynamics in literature texts, health concerns can be an issue in a geography lesson, PE can focus on wider healthy lifestyles to name but a few.

None of this means that children won’t have mental health issues, indeed some children will have diagnosed mental illness.

Nor does it mean that the safeguarding concerns we have heard so much about during the pandemic aren’t valid and real – as they are (indeed the vastly reduced number of referrals to statutory safeguarding authorities during the period of “lockdown” shows the vital role of schools in protecting the vulnerable in society).

What it does mean is that by being proactive…

    • by teaching children what features of a positive and a less positive relationship are
    • by teaching directly about abuse and neglect, by teaching self-help and avenues of support
    • by destigmatising mental illness through incorporation in our curriculum
    • by teaching about healthy lifestyles in their widest sense

…we equip children to start conversations with trusted adults around them and access help and support to enable children to have the most positive life possible – academically and socially.

That’s something that shouldn’t have to wait – it’s about life skills and personal safety, it shouldn’t be an add-on after English and Maths have been taught.

So what support is out there?

I’d start by reading the guidance – the R(S)HE statutory guidance and the Ofsted report.

Organisations such as the PSHE Association argue the case well for a wider focus on PSHE, so there is lots of information out there.

Last academic year, I created a completely free Relationships and Health Education Roadmap, plus accompanying resources, for Primary schools to help you prepare. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend downloading it here and working your way through the videos.

I also wrote the following blog as a starter for ten: 6 Guidelines to Help Lead Your Statutory Relationships and Health Education Consultation and had an article published in PSM Magazine.

Online Support

Whilst most CPD training is currently virtual, don’t dismiss it automatically and wait for face to face support to be available.  It is still very valid and videoconferencing allows delegates to share experiences and engage with content in the same way as in face to face sessions.

At Services For Education we are delivering all of our training online, including:

All of these cover exactly the same information that the face-to-face courses do. The world hasn’t stopped, so make sure you’re still utilising the huge amount of advice and training available to you.


A good Relationships and Health Education really does prepare children for their future lives.

We must prioritise this aspect of education, as readily as we do other curriculum subjects to prepare our children for a successful future.

Details of all our PSHE and RSE support and resources can be found here.

If I can be of any further help with planning for statutory status, staff training or any other bespoke support please don’t hesitate to contact me at

About the Author

Jo PerrinJo Perrin - Adviser, Services For Education

Jo Perrin taught PSHE in schools for over a decade and held the role of Designated Safeguarding Lead and pastoral lead. She currently works as an Education Adviser for Services For Education which allows her to combine her experience in schools with a personal knowledge of childhood trauma as a former foster carer.

In addition, Jo worked as a West Midlands’ Adviser for a national PSHE resource, has delivered a presentation to the Sex Education Forum National Members’ Event and has created a variety of RSE resources as part of her role for Services For Education.

Jo’s advisory experience is not limited to training school staff as she works with non-education based organisations to support them in safeguarding and emotional health and well-being aims and is an affiliated trainer for Mental Health At Work.


rse and pshe support

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