FAQs About SRE

Top 10 FAQs!

Welcome to our top 10 frequently asked questions, selected from the many queries we receive each year. If your question is not answered here, please contact us.

 

Q1. What is sex and relationships education?

Q2. What does the law say about teaching sex and relationships education?
 
Q3. What should be included in our school sex and relationships education policy?

Q4. Can you recommend good sex and relationships education resources?

Q5. I am developing SRE for my school which is a faith school and am concerned about the reactions of parents.

Q6. How do we tackle homophobia in our schools?

Q7. What training is available for teaching sex and relationships education?

Q8. How can we make sure that young people in my school get confidential advice and support?

Q9. A 14 year old has disclosed they are having sex - what do I do?

Q10. What is the right age to start talking to children about sex and relationships?



Q1. What is sex and relationships education?

Sex and relationships education (SRE) is learning about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up, relationships, sex, human sexuality and sexual health. It should equip children and young people with the information, skills and positive values to have safe, fulfilling relationships, to enjoy their sexuality and to take responsibility for their sexual health and well-being.

The Sex Education Forum believes that good quality SRE is an entitlement for all children and young people and must:

  • Be accurate and factual covering a comprehensive range of information about sex, relationships and sexual health. 
  • Be positively inclusive in terms of gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, culture, age, faith, belief, HIV status, pregnancy or other life-experience
  • Be respectful of the realities in which children and young people live so that no-one is disadvantaged because of their family or community background
  • Include the development of skills that enable personal responsibility, support healthy relationships and ensure good communication about sex and relationships
  • Promote a critical awareness of different social and peer norms and values
  • Nurture the development of clear values based on mutual respect and care
  • Ensure that children and young people are clearly informed about where they can get confidential advice and support

To ensure SRE meets the needs of children and young people it must:

  • Start early in childhood and continue throughout life
  • Be provided within a learning environment which is safe for the children, young people and adults involved and should help young people understand that prejudice, discrimination and bullying are harmful and unacceptable
  • Actively involve children and young people as participants, evaluators and advocates in developing good quality provision
  • Be provided in partnership by schools, parents, carers and communities
  • Be taught by trained and competent educators 
     

The government's position on SRE is laid out in the guidance document for schools.

Q2. What does the law say about teaching sex and relationships education?

It is compulsory for schools to teach the biological aspects of puberty, reproduction and the spread of viruses. These topics are compulsory as part of National Curriculum Science which is taught to all pupils of primary and secondary age.
 
The broader subject of sex and relationships education (SRE) is currently not compulsory in schools (but we hope this will change soon). However both primary and secondary schools must have an up-to-date policy that describes the content and organisation of SRE taught outside the Science Curriculum. If the decision is taken not to teach SRE outside the Science Curriculum this should also be documented in the policy.

It is the responsibility of the schools governing body to ensure that the policy is developed and made available to parents. Parents have a right to withdraw their children from SRE taught outside the Science Curriculum.

What is compulsory for schools is set out in legislation. The most up-to-date legislation relating to sex and relationships education is the Education Act (1996) and the Learning and Skills Act (2000).

Building on this legislation, the government published guidance about sex and relationships education in 2000. The guidance recommends that schools teach the broader subject of sex and relationships education - and advise that this be taught as part of personal, social and health education (PSHE).

The Qualifications and Curriculum Agency (QCA) published key stage statements for a revised personal, social, health and economic education curriculum (PSHE Education) for secondary schools in 2007. This includes sections on sex and relationships education. The teaching of PSHE Education remains optional for schools. Schools teaching PSHE Education remain free to adopt the QCA curriculum, adapt it or devise their own. 

For further information and reference:

Education Act 1996
Learning and Skills Act 2000
Sex and Relationship Education Guidance (2000)
National Curriculum

See also: Understanding sex and relationships education, (2010) which is the Sex Education Forum's guide to what SRE is, why it is important and the principles and values that should underpin good quality SRE.

Q3. What should be included in our school sex and relationships education policy?

Government guidance on SRE published in 2000, states that all schools must have an up-to-date policy that is made available for inspection and to parents and that pupils, teachers, parents and the wider community be involved in developing and reviewing the policy. The guidance states that the policy must:

  • define sex and relationship education;
  • describe how sex and relationship education is provided and who is responsible for providing it;
  • say how sex and relationship education is monitored and evaluated;
    include information about parents' right to withdrawal;
  • be reviewed regularly.


The government guidance includes further advice about topics that should be covered by the SRE policy. To help inform the development of your SRE policy, the Sex Education Forum have produced a framework which sets out:

  • a definition of sex and relationships education (SRE) 
  • the importance of SRE
  • good practice in planning, delivering and reflecting on SRE


The Sex Education Forum recommends that sex and relationships education be taught as part of a planned programme of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). It is compulsory for schools to have a separate policy on SRE so it is recommended that a PSHE policy be developed alongside the school SRE policy. 

Good practice in developing a PSHE policy is set out in the publication:'A Whole-school approach to Personal, Social and Health Education and Citizenship'.

Some local education authorities have produced example SRE policies, and made them available on their websites, sometimes with associated documents such as action plans. Two examples:


Q4. Can you recommend good sex and relationships education resources?

There are a range of sex and relationships education resources produced by voluntary sector organisations, local authorities and commercial companies.

The Sex Education Forum does not recommend specific resources but instead encourages each school or institution to review the materials they use to make sure they are suitable for the children and young people they are working with. This will ensure that you are confidant with the materials and they are appropriate to the needs of the group.

When choosing resources you may want to consider the following checklist:

  • Is it consistent with the school ethos, values framework and SRE policy?
  • Is it appropriate to the needs of the pupils in terms of language, images, maturity etc? 
  • Is it inclusive of all children and young people with respect to race, gender, sexual orientation or disability?
  • Does it include positive images of a range of people?
  • Can the resource be adapted according to different levels of understanding?
  • Is it factually correct and up to date?
  • Is it simple to use or is extra training needed?
  • Does it encourage active and participatory learning methods?
  • If you have used it before what feedback did you receive from the pupils?


The Sex Education Forum has produced a list of available resources for primary level, secondary level, special needs & disability and parents and carers. You may also be interested to look at the individual web-sites of our member organisations - many of whom produce resources.

You may also find it helpful to speak to the PSHE and Healthy Schools Coordinators in your school/local authority and suggest sharing information about resources that teachers are using locally.

Sex Education Forum resource lists

Resource list - Primary

Resource list - Secondary

Resource list - Special needs and Disability

Resource list - Parents and carers


Q5.  I am developing SRE for my school which is a faith school and am concerned about the reactions of parents.

In some schools; including faith-based and non-faith schools, SRE has been lacking because of misunderstandings about what is included in SRE and what the core values are, fear about the reaction of parents and carers, and a lack of training and support for teachers. 

Concerns from parents can arise when assumptions are made about the purpose and content of SRE. Talking and listening reduces misunderstanding and consulting with parents, children and young people and the wider community when planning SRE is key to success, and will help reassure teachers and parents. Many parents and carers are supportive of SRE but may be unclear about how to broach these issues with their children and therefore will appreciate any support that is offered by their child's school. Talking about the school's values and giving concrete examples of how SRE will be delivered and how questions will be answered is helpful.

Schools have flexibility to deliver an SRE programme that is consistent with their values. They also have a responsibility to uphold children and young people's rights to accurate information, safety, health and well-being and anti-discriminatory practice.

The Sex Education Forum has published a number of practice examples showing how schools and local communities are developing SRE programmes that respond to particular faith and values contexts.

For more information:

Practice examples on the Sex Education Forum web-site 

Sex Education Forum factsheet: Faith, values and sex and relationships education [PDF 197KB]

Sex Education Forum booklet:  Faith, values and sex and relationships education  

 

Q6. How do we tackle homophobia in our schools?

Homophobia, like any form of discrimination, should be tackled though a whole school approach. Schools should provide a safe environment for all pupils regardless of sexual orientation. An explicit statement highlighting the schools commitment to anti-discriminatory practice should be developed.

The introduction through the Local Government Act 1988 of a clause known as 'Section 28' created confusion about whether professionals working with young people could talk about sexual orientation.  Section 28 stated that a local authority shall not 'intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality.' Although this statement never applied to schools, it did make teachers uncertain about how they could talk to young people about sexual orientation. 'Section 28' was repealed in November 2003.

Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship should give children and young people the opportunity to discuss diversity and difference, and SRE sessions should allow young people to discuss different types of relationships and explore their attitudes. Government SRE Guidance (DfEE 2000) clearly states that "teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support."

Staff should also be encouraged to explore their own attitudes to ensure they are able to challenge homophobic behaviour and language both in and outside the classroom.

Sex Education Forum member organisations that can provide further information:
Stonewall - Education For All campaign

Other organisations that can provide further information:

School's Out - campaigns for equality in education for gay, lesbian and trans people.

EACH - (Educational Action Challenging Homophobia) provides support and advice for adults and young people affected by homophobia. It also provides training for employers and organisations.

See also:
Sexual orientation, sexual identities and homophobia in schools Forum Factsheet [PDF 953KB]

Q7. What training is available for teaching sex and relationships education?

Young people tell us that their teachers often don't know enough to teach sex and relationships education (SRE) well. It is vitally important that teachers of SRE are well trained for the job.

A range of professionals get involved in teaching SRE to young people including teachers, learning mentors, school nurses, youth workers and outreach workers. Training opportunities that may be available locally include:

  • in-house training organised by individual schools, colleges or youth centres
  • multi-disciplinary training organised by the primary care trust or local authority
  • training run by local voluntary sector agencies

To find out more about local training opportunities there are likely to be a number of lead professionals based in the local authority that can give you more information. Contact details are often available on local authority web-sites.

Teachers and nurses can apply to do a national programme of continuing professional development (CPD) in Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) - which includes SRE. The programme is university accredited and participants can gain credits at Masters level. You can find out more about this from your local authority or by visiting the PSHE CPD website

Training programmes are also run by a number of national voluntary sector organisations including several members of the Sex Education Forum. Please see below:

Sex Education Forum members providing SRE training:

Brook
CHIV Sheffield
fpa
NCB
National Youth Agency
Young People in Focus

 

Q8. How can we make sure that young people in my school get confidential advice and support?

It is important that young people can get confidential one-to-one support as well as having opportunities to learn about sex and relationships with their peer group.

The classroom is a public place, where it is not appropriate to talk about private concerns. However sex and relationships education (SRE) is likely to raise personal issues for some young people. 

All schools need to ensure that they give young people clear information about where they can get confidential advice and support - either in school or nearby. SRE lessons are an obvious place to tell young people about the services available locally. The government guidance on SRE advises that schools give young people "precise details of local confidential advice services".

Schools can also put local service information up on notice boards, stickers on toilet doors, student diaries, intranet and through assembly. By making links with local services is may be possible to organise visits from health professionals to talk to young people about the services available. Link to sexual health services site case-studies: mock visits to local clinics….

There are clear benefits in improving young people's access to confidential advice and support. Many schools have worked with local partners to set up confidential drop-in health services on or near the school-site. These services are typically run by the school-nurse or a visiting health professional. There is strong support in government policy for the provision of health services, including sexual health in education settings such as schools and colleges.

For more information:

Sex Education Forum confidentiality factsheet
Sex Education Forum publication: Forging the Links
Sex Education Forum report: National mapping of on-site sexual health services in education settings
Practice examples of on-site sexual health services in schools and in FE colleges

 

Q9. A 14 year old has disclosed they are having sex - what do I do?

The legal age of consent for sex is 16 for boys and girls regardless of sexual orientation.

The law intends to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation.
The law however does not intend to prosecute mutually agreed sexual activity between two young people of a similar age where there is no evidence or abuse or coercion. It is important that the young person is made aware of this and knows where they are able to get confidential support and advice.

If there is any evidence that abuse or coercion is involved, or that the pupil is at risk or is putting somebody else at risk you must follow your organisation's child protection procedures.

Schools (and other organisations that work with young people) should have a statement on confidentiality that outlines how all staff should deal with the disclosure of potentially sensitive information. This statement should recognise the roles and responsibilities of all those working within the school. Some outside visitors however such as schools nurses and other health professionals will work under their own strict confidentiality guidelines.

Useful documents:

Sex Education Forum briefing: The Sexual Offences Act 2003 [PDF 71KB] -  which includes a statement for young people
Sex Education Forum factsheet: Confidentiality: promoting young people's sexual health and well-being in secondary schools [PDF 459KB]

 

Q10. What is the right age to start talking to children about sex and relationships?

Children are interested in 'where babies comes from' and what makes boys and girls different from a very young age. So don't worry - it is natural for children to be curious and ask these questions.

Children take in the information around them about sex and relationships from a very young age even if no-one talks to them about it. Many of the things they pick up are incorrect and confusing. For this reason it is important that parents and carers answer their children's questions to help them make sense of it all. 

Adults often find questions about sex and relationships difficult and embarrassing - but if adults are able to answer in an honest and confident way this will set the tone for children - making it easier for them to bring up similar topics as they are growing up.

There is advice available for parents as well as resources such as story books. Sex Education Forum member organisations that can provide further information are:

 

Sex Education Forum resources

Talk to your children about sex and relationships: support for parents (2003) Forum Factsheet 31 [PDF 57KB]

Laying the Foundations: Sex and Relationships Education in primary schools (2006)
Anna Martinez and Vanessa Cooper

This resource has been developed to support primary school staff in developing SRE policy and practice. The resource includes sample lesson plans for Key Stages 1 and 2.


To order resources, contact Central Books:


Tel: 0845 458 9910
Email: ncb@centralbooks.com
Website: http://www.centralbooks.com/
Post: National Children's Bureau, c/o Central Books, 99 Wallis Road, London E9 5LN